In recent years, there has been a call for courts to take an alternative stance regarding the sentencing and prosecution of non-violent crimes. Responding to these requests, the Georgia Legislature created the Georgia Accountability Court Program, one of several significant criminal justice reform initiatives established to provide practical alternatives to sentencing for those nonviolent offenders. This, in turn, reduced the state's prison population. This legislation is aimed at reducing the incarnation and recidivism rate. This law saves lives and restores families.
As a result of legislation, courts have attacked issues like drug abuse; veteran issues; and mental health. These courts have provided structure and their programs help participants identify and address long-term problems that were the source of the criminal behavior. By reducing the recidivism rate, the taxpayers save the money necessary to incarcerate those individuals and it provides productive members of the community that would otherwise take from the community.
Building on this success, as your next Gwinnett Superior Court Judge, I will create a Behavior Accountability Court to address problems that drive criminal behavior for those not suffering from drug addictions, mental health diagnoses, or Veteran issues. There is a significant segment of our population that suffers from a lack of education and training which often motivates criminal activities. Many of these individuals come from broken homes. Many were never taught the skills necessary to make better decisions. These individuals would benefit from a mentoring program that would give them the tools to improve their situations through better opportunities and wiser decision-making. Using the same principles that have been successful in other accountability courts, I am proposing to bring professionals from mental health, education and the criminal justice fields to create a structure of accountability.
Many of the participants will come from communities where they have never addressed their treatment needs for physical and psychological health care. A lot of times these individuals are homeless, helpless, in despair, suffering from alcohol or drug addiction. Others may have some mental illnesses or were victims of abuse and/or neglect. Their lives have been on a downward trajectory. And because many of these people fall outside of the other programs because of their age (i.e. those charged in Juvenile Court), may suffer from some mental illness but are not classified as severely mentally ill, or have past convictions that make them ineligible for drug court (i.e. sell or intent to distribute charge(s)). These individuals are being underserved. We hope to offer an opportunity for people to gain stability in their lives, employment for the employable, housing for the homeless, in turn strengthening their families. The mission is to successfully rehabilitate those eligible individuals by offering them opportunities to join the community as successful individuals rather than them being a part of the system. Our goal is to increase public safety and provide opportunities to those who may not get them elsewhere.
The program will consist of two boards of advisors. The first will be made up of professionals from mental health, social services, law enforcement, education, and legal sectors. These professionals will design a program that will address the need of the participants and address all the needs of a person. The second will be comprised of leaders from the business, governmental and charitable communities. This group will make sure that the program is providing the necessary skills to ensure that individuals are gaining marketable skills that will improve their lives. The program will use a screening process that will identify those that will benefit the most from this opportunity and ensure that we are good stewards of our resources.
The last few years we’ve understood that there must be a new approach to criminal justice. We realize that individuals need to take responsibility for their actions, but we also know that there are underlying problems that lead to criminal behavior. This revelation has spurred the creation of new approaches to how we are sentencing people that may suffer from the long-term problem that may cause them to make unwise choices. We have come to understand that if these issues are addressed systematically, we can create change. By providing drug counseling, mental health treatment, and other social services, we have seen a reduction in recidivism. This approach has led to lower incarceration rates, resulting in less of our tax dollars going to house prisoners and having more law-abiding citizens. I know we can build on this model and help those that have been left out of this reform or simply underserved. I believe with the right effort we can expand these opportunities and help create a safer and more prosperous Gwinnett County.