Georgia proposal would ease path for offenders to get off probation

Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, is pushing legislation that would make it easier to waive probation for offenders who have avoided any further legal trouble. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, is pushing legislation that would make it easier to waive probation for offenders who have avoided any further legal trouble. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

As part of then-Gov. Nathan Deal’s work to revamp Georgia’s criminal justice system, lawmakers in 2017 approved changes to the state’s laws that were supposed to help people get off probation if they have avoided more legal trouble.

After more than three years, Georgia still has more people on probation per capita than any other state in the nation, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Strickland is pushing to ease the burden not only on those who’ve served time, but the state’s probation system.

Senate Bill 105 would allow someone convicted of a felony who has served at least three years of probation, paid all restitution and not been arrested on anything more serious than a traffic charge to be eligible to end their probation sentence early. Only people who had no prior felony convictions would qualify for early termination of probation.

“Someone has done everything they’re supposed to do, they’ve paid restitution, they’ve not gotten in any more trouble, those are people that have shown they can be productive members of society,” said Strickland, a Republican from McDonough.

The new law would be retroactive and apply to anyone on probation who met the criteria. Criminal justice advocates say there were 203,000 Georgians on probation in 2020.

The legislation has support from the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, which manages the state’s probation and parole programs, and activists such as the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition and the Georgia Justice Project, which provides legal defense to low-income people charged with crimes. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the legislation.

“We know that for people to be successful they have to have access to economic opportunity and have to have access to employment,” said Lisa McGahan, policy director with the Georgia Justice Project. “And we also know that when you’re serving a very long probation sentence, those two things are mutually exclusive.”

Scott Maurer, assistant commissioner in the Department of Community Supervision, told the Senate panel that implementing the legislation would have little impact on the way his agency manages probations and help with its caseload.

If the bill passes, the Department of Community Supervision could recommend that a judge waive the remainder of an offender’s probation. It would apply only in cases of felons who were sentenced either to probation or less than a year followed by probation, provided they have paid all restitution and have not faced any new arrests for anything more than a “nonserious traffic offense.”

The court could either grant the waiving of the sentence or a judge would have to set a hearing to consider ending probation early within 90 days of the recommendation. The recommendation would also be sent to the prosecutor’s office, and the prosecutor could request the hearing.

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