A state criminal justice reform panel made up of judges, lawmakers and members of the law enforcement community is beginning the task of completing one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s primary objectives.
The committee is charged with coming up with a list of ideas for prison reform, and by prison reform, the state means finding a way to reduce the number of criminals behind bars — convicted felons who are costing taxpayers a bundle-times-three.
This is all well and good as long as the panel remembers why we pay for a judicial system and jails in the first place. Protection of the public is one of the main reasons why there is even such a thing as local or state government, and that includes protection of both life and property.
Early indications are that reform will be accomplished in several ways. Courts will make greater use, for example, of mental institutions. Criminals also could be freed from jail even sooner than they already are if the offense committed is nonviolent in nature and involves only drugs or the theft of property.
Committee members will have to approach this issue from a liberal viewpoint if they hope to pinpoint almost $300 million in cost reductions. Saving money is the only justification — if anyone can call it that — the state will have for reducing punishment for felonies to a slap on the wrist.
No one wants to lock men and women up, but what other choice does a free, working and productive society have? How else can it protect itself from thieves, child molesters and murderers? Is there really any other way other than arrest, conviction and prison? Has the world missed out on something these past 2,012 years?
We’ve seen these reforms go haywire before and wreak havoc on innocent communities and individuals. A presidential candidate even made campaign fodder out of liberal reforms and captured the White House in the process.
Throwing lawbreakers behind bars costs money. That’s a reality. The only other option is to free criminals early or allow them to remain free. It’s a reality the committee must acknowledge when separating the good, the bad and the ugly — when trying to decide which criminals belong in jail and which don’t.