State corrections chiefs present overhaul plan to key lawmakers - CBS46 News

State corrections chiefs present overhaul plan to key lawmakers

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Criminal justice officials took Gov. Nathan Deal's plan to overhaul prisons and juvenile detention to a panel of key lawmakers.

The governor wants to spend millions of dollars on programs aimed at keeping low-risk offenders, especially young people, out of jail.

Deal has asked lawmakers for nearly $12 million to divert low-risk offenders from jail toward rehabilitative programs that include drug, mental health and veterans' courts.

Brian Owens, corrections department commissioner, said it is far better to channel non-violent offenders toward rehabilitation.

"If we can invest money on the front end, at the courtroom, for low-risk offenders to treat addiction, mental illness, perhaps they'll never make it past the swinging prison doors," Owens said.

The governor also wants to set aside $5 million to expand community-based programs, give kids training and keep them out of jail.

"I think it's a great idea," said Avery Niles, commissioner of the juvenile justice department. "These programs, once implemented, will keep youth out of jail."

The inmate population, which is already overcrowding Georgia's jails and prisons, is growing. The governor's plan seeks to alleviate a problem that costs hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

"Ultimately it'll save taxpayers money and improve the quality of life of the citizens of Georgia," said State Sen. Butch Miller, the Senate Majority Caucus chairman.

Miller added that sending young people into training and rehabilitation programs possibly can turn them into productive members of society and prevent them growing into career criminals.

"They need to come out of this facility with a meaningful perspective on life, be able to make a living, be able to support themselves and not go back to jail," Miller said.

The overhaul plan has received rare bipartisan support in a sometimes bitterly divided state general assembly.

Both Republicans and Democrats largely agree on the key points of the governor's plan.      

State Sen. Vincent Fort, the Democratic whip, whose job is to rally opposition against Republican plans Democrats do not like, agreed with the Republican governor.

Housing non-violent offenders, many political leaders agree, does little to keep the streets safe and costs taxpayers too much.

"This is something conservatives and liberals can agree on," Fort said. "It will save money in the long run if we don't have to warehouse those young people."

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