Mass incarceration has become an epidemic in America. The United States makes up less than 5% of the world’s population yet houses 20% of the world’s prisoners.3 The United States owns the highest incarceration rate in the world with 698 out of every 100,000 individuals incarcerated.4 Georgia ranks first among all states with a correctional control rate of 5143 per 100,000 individuals. Out of 10.8 million Georgians, 4.2 million have a criminal record.5 527,000 Georgians are incarcerated in various state prisons, local jails, federal prisons, youth detention centers, or on probation supervision.6 The Georgia Department of Corrections reports that 30% of adults and 65% of juveniles are reconvicted within three years of their release from a detention center.7 The Georgia Department of Corrections reported a 2021 budget of $1.2 billion of which $166 million was allocated to the Department of Community Supervision.8 Georgia has more individuals on probation than any other state. Individuals in Georgia spend three times as long on probation than individuals in the rest of the country.9 Technical violations account for 25% of all prison admissions in Georgia.10 These statistics are the direct result of a failing criminal justice system that continues to implement draconian prosecutorial methods when adjudicating misdemeanor and felony arrests that are directly related to poverty, substance abuse and or mental health.
The University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government conducted a study on traditional adjudication methods and found that individuals prosecuted in the state of Georgia cost taxpayers over $20,000 per individual in post-sentencing costs!11 This figure does not reflect the taxpayer costs associated with conducting arrests or prosecuting individuals. Not only is traditional adjudication an ineffective use of taxpayer funds, it indefinitely perpetuates adverse results made evident by Georgia’s historically high recidivism rates.
Traditional adjudication creates a cycle of crime. Once a person is convicted, obtaining gainful employment becomes extremely difficult, and in some circumstances impossible. A conviction blocks access to federal student aid and housing resources which prevents individuals from pursuing higher education and often results in homelessness, or worse. The psychological effects of this type of alienation leads to desperation and hopelessness which forms the underlying cause for criminality.
In Georgia, starting in 2011, alternatives for traditional adjudication have been implemented on a limited basis and the results therefrom thoroughly studied. These alternatives are known as Accountability Courts. In 2017, the Council of Accountability Court Judges and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council partnered with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government to conduct an economic impact analysis of the 1,729 Georgia Accountability Court program graduates.
The study found that each graduate produced $22,129 in economic benefits to the state. That is a total of $38.2 million. In addition to the economic benefits, spending for Accountability Court participants saved taxpayers almost $5,000 per individual. Traditional adjudication costs taxpayers $20,230 per individual. Accountability Courts cost taxpayers $15,523 per individual. The report concluded that the recidivism rate for program graduates was at about 15% nationally.12
Despite taxpayer savings, economic benefits and reduced recidivism rates, Georgia’s Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has slashed Accountability Court program funding in consecutive years.13