Imagine a city behind bars. By 2008, stricter sentencing laws will have
created a prison population in Georgia of 56,000 to 58,000 -- about the
size of Marietta, the city near Atlanta.

Georgia taxpayers are already paying nearly $1 billion a year to house
prisoners. Georgia has the sixth-highest incarceration rate in the United
States and ranks first among states in the percentage of people in prison,
probation or on parole.

Many of these prisoners are behind bars because of mandatory prison
sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes and property crimes. In some cases,
Georgia's judges are forced to give a first-time offender prison time even
though his or her circumstances might warrant a more lenient penalty.

A commission formed by former Gov. Roy Barnes, but now dissolved by Gov.
Sonny Perdue, suggested reducing prison time for some victimless crimes.
It's estimated such a step would reduce the number of prison beds in next
the next four years by 4,120, for a savings of $287 million.

Perdue has created a new group of judges, district attorneys and others to
review the recommendations of the previous commission. We urge it to
seriously consider this task and move quickly.

We understand the reasoning for stricter laws created during the war on
drugs in the last decade. However, the impact is not necessarily reducing
drug abuse. Instead, they are casting a huge net over a large population.

Certainly, better ways to deal with drug users can be created, rather than
simply throwing them into prison with hard-core criminals such as rapists,
robbers and murderers.

Pubdate: Mon, 23 Jun 2003
Source: Valdosta Daily Times (GA)
Copyright: 2003 Valdosta Daily Times