Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed the second edition of a criminal justice bill into law Thursday, calling the legislation another step toward making the state “smarter on crime.”
Deal signed House Bill 349 in Marietta and said the legislation gives judges the option to avoid imposing mandatory minimum sentences in certain circumstances. Judges will now have the option to make more appropriate decisions in drug-related cases where the defendant isn’t the primary suspect in a criminal enterprise, Deal said in a statement.
“Public safety will be improved by giving prosecutors leverage in certain cases and by ensuring that our prison resources are reserved for the ‘kingpins’ while the ‘mules’ are given a chance at reform,” he said.
The legislation also creates the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Commission, which will conduct reviews of the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Deal will appoint 15 members to the council. It will be composed of 10 state officials — lawmakers from each legislative chamber, judges, law enforcement, a criminal defense attorney and others. The governor also will appoint five additional members.
Commission members will be appointed for four-year terms and will review the criminal and juvenile justice systems at least every two years, according to the bill.
In 2011, the legislature voted to establish a special council on criminal justice reform, which examined the state’s adult sentencing and corrections data. In 2012, Deal expanded the commission’s membership and added reviewing the juvenile justice system to its list of duties.
The reform bill also contains provisions offering limited driving permits for defendants involved in drug court and mental health programs who meet their program’s requirements. The law also allows defendants who have earned a HOPE GED voucher while incarcerated to use it within two years of release.