Sunday, February 6, 2011

Prison Alternatives: Good Ideas and Bad Ideas

In his inaugural address, last month, new Georgia Governor Nathan Deal wisely suggested that Georgia, like other states, can no longer afford to try to lock up all of its law-breakers and throw away the key.  In an era of tight state budgets, the costs of incarceration are simply too much.  Now, please don't misunderstand! No one, including the Governor, is suggesting that dangerous recidivists, or violent offenders should be given probation and a slap on the wrist.  In other words, most observers would agree that prison remains the only viable option for convicted murderers, rapists, and armed robbers.  But what about non-violent offenders?  What are some of the ideas being considered for the bad check writers, forgerers, and other white collar criminals?  Well, in my opinion, there are some good ideas and some bad ideas being considered.  Let's talk about one of the bad ideas being considered first!
Some legislators in Atlanta are considering privitization of state prisons as a solution to our overcrowded, expensive corrections problem.  As a former state and federal prosecutor, (and currently, as a criminal defense attorney), I strongly disagree with this proposal.  For instance, I believe that the state must not shirk its responsibility for inmate care by turning it over to a private, profit-driven business.  Private businesses would be focused only on the bottom line and not on inmate care, or community safety.  In addition, while state corrections officials may not be very accountable to the public now, just imagine how unaccountable private companies will be!  This is a terrible idea, in my opinion!
On the other hand, I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of Georgia investing more money in drug courts and minimum security diversion centers for non-violent offenders.  These alternatives will result in real savings to the taxpayers and help inmates make restitution to victims.  Also, the defendants would be required to get out, get jobs, and pay the costs of these alternatives, too!
What do you think? 

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