(The Center Square) – The Georgia Senate has approved a bill that makes it easier for Georgians on probation to seek early termination of their sentence.
Senate Bill 105 would simplify the process for early termination for people who have served at least three years on probation and met certain requirements. It cleared the Senate unanimously Thursday.
One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, said if the measure becomes law, it would help thousands of Georgians transition out of the criminal justice system and save taxpayers millions of dollars.
"In Georgia, we should incentivize individuals that make mistakes, that serve their time, pay their restitution and stay out of trouble," Strickland said. "We should be helping Georgians that have earned a second chance in life to get a job, buy a house, start a family, or accomplish anything else they dream of doing in the state, without the stigma of probation hanging over their heads."
Georgia has more people on probation or parole than any other state, according to the Georgia Justice Project. About 1 in 18 Georgians are on community supervision. The average probation sentence in Georgia is 6.3 years, well above the nationwide average of two years, while 40% of probation sentences in Georgia are more than 10 years long, the Georgia Justice Project said.
Strickland said SB 105 clarifies parole sentence reform policies that failed to make the impact lawmakers intended.
Georgia Department of Community Supervision officials said many Georgians who should have qualified for early sentence termination did not because of the process. Out of 50,000 eligible cases under the current policy, only 213 automatically received a bid date, a day in court to seek the early termination, official reports show.
Lisa McGahan, policy director for the Georgia Justice Project, said Georgia has three ways to shorten probation sentences based on good behavior. Each path has its own definition of good behavior, creating a conflict in the system. SB 105 streamlines the process.
Under SB 105, Georgians on probation could cut their sentences short if they have paid restitution, have not had their probation revoked in the past two years or have not been arrested for anything other than a "nonserious" traffic offense.
Scott Maurer, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, said SB 105 maintains the criteria but makes it easier for everyone.
"We're supportive of the legislation. We think it'll have a positive impact on the extremely large caseload that our officers have, as well as the length of sentences on probation in Georgia," Maurer said last week during a Senate Committee on Judiciary hearing.
The bill now heads to the House for consideration.