Gov. Deal’s legacy

Published 8:05 pm Friday, July 6, 2018

Every governor and president will leave a legacy. When Gov. Nathan Deal was sworn in, I knew that Georgia was in safe hands with a proven conservative. But, I never thought he would be known as a huge advocate and facilitator of criminal justice reform.

In the past, conservatives were generally known as “tough on crime.” Being a conservative myself, I often questioned this approach because of the financial burden on taxpayers. 

As a criminal defense lawyer, I saw multiple problems in our system that needed to be changed.   

Until Deal was elected, I thought that tackling criminal justice reform would doom a conservative candidate who addressed it in a common-sense manner. I was wrong. In May 2018, Deal signed SB 407, one of the many criminal justice reform bills he has signed during his two terms. SB 407 reforms misdemeanor bail practices, providing increased flexibility and transparency in that area.

SB 407 also provides judges with more opportunities to utilize community service and educational advancement as alternatives to fines or as a condition of probation. According to Deal’s office, the results of criminal justice reform include:

4At the start of 2011, Georgia’s prisons were operating at 107 percent of capacity, and the state’s incarceration rate was the fourth-highest in the nation, expected to further increase in the coming years.

4Due to criminal justice reform measures, including the diversion and rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders to accountability courts, our prison population instead declined and our recidivism rate has decreased, saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

4In particular, African-Americans have historically been disproportionately represented in Georgia’s prison system. Between 2009 and 2017, commitments of African-American males dropped 29.7 percent and commitments of African-American females declined 38.2 percent. Overall, the number of African-Americans committed to prison in 2017 was at the lowest level since 1987.

4Because of our accountability courts and the emphasis we have placed on rehabilitation measures within our corrections facilities we are helping those who have made mistakes reclaim their lives and we are making our communities safer. In fact, there was a 24 percent decrease in overall crime between 2008 and 2016.

Deal’s legacy will not be surrounded by controversial partisan issues. He will be remembered for his courage in tackling a silent but huge problem.

As a citizen and fellow lawyer, I thank you for your service, Nathan Deal.