I’m running to be your Governor to bring back hope that all Georgians will be treated justly in the eyes of the law and all of our families can be safe in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities.
The criminal justice system is vital to a fair, functioning society. The most important function of our state is to protect law-abiding citizens from those that would do them harm. But there is bi-partisan consensus that Georgia’s current system needs improvement to make it more fair and focus energy and resources on protecting families. We need to make sure that the system’s focus remains on public safety, and we need to re-examine any policies that do not further this end. We must make sure that the law protects us all equally, and in doing so, does not punish any of us unequally.
Georgia has made strides towards an improved criminal justice system, but we still face many serious issues. Our probation rate is the highest in the country at nearly four times the national average. Our incarceration rate is the eighth highest in the country. Our recidivism rate is 30 percent. And 62 percent of the people behind bars are African-Americans. These numbers are too high, and Georgia can do better.
Punishment for punishment’s sake cannot be our tact. Rather, we should focus on rehabilitation by helping incarcerated individuals rebuild their lives after they have paid their debt so society – to work to become valuable members of society and earn a second chance. Approximately 70 percent of Georgia’s inmates don’t have a high school diploma, and those released from prison will have a hard time getting a job. By offering inmates educational opportunities—such as the opportunity to earn a GED or obtain a technical certificate or degree—we can lower recidivism rates, which will greatly benefit both public safety and the economy.
Overcrowded prisons are another major problem in Georgia. Morally, it is indefensible to continue to lock up thousands of people for minor, non-violent offenses. It is also economically indefensible. We must address over-arresting, over-sentencing and under-paroling. Crowded prisons put an enormous strain on our state and cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
We must not be soft on violent crime, and we should direct our resources to make sure these criminals feel the full force of the law. But many prisoners are decent people that made a mistake—a teenager who got caught up in drugs, an out-of-work parent who stole in a moment of weakness to provide for their family. While these people sit in cells for years on end, costing the state millions of dollars, their families are denied their loved ones and Georgia’s economy is denied their contribution. Redemption and rehabilitation should be attainable for such people, so we need to take on common-sense parole reforms and diversion approaches, including drug courts, juvenile programs and mental health and addiction services. Ultimately our system must focus on real justice, protecting victims, and ensuring that those convicted of crimes are dealt with responsibly and not with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Racial profiling is wrong and there is no place for it in a just society. We need to increase our focus on training, oversight and background checks to make sure our cops are well-prepared to protect and serve everyone. Let’s make a commitment to funding body cameras for police offices to provide more protections and accountability for both law enforcement and the community.
We must also begin the work towards decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. Possessing marijuana without the intent to distribute should not make you a felon or put you in prison for up to 10 years.
And we must end private for-profit prisons and probation programs. There should not be a profit motive tied to criminal justice. Records have shown that the for-profit prison and probation industry has pocketed large fees while in many cases failing to properly do their job. And it is taxpayers that have footed the bill when these companies fail.
The criminal just system affects all of us, not just criminals and victims. The more just and efficient we can make the system, the better it is for our society and for our state. As your governor, my priority will be to protect all Georgians, and I will do so by bringing a common-sense approach to improving our criminal justice system to better serve all citizens of this state.