Nathan Deal

Governor of Georgia

Notable Reforms

Launched a five year justice reform initiative that addressed accountability courts, juvenile justice reforms, re-entry programs, sentencing reforms, and others.

Areas Addressed

  • Government Efficiency
  • Sentencing Reform
  • Collateral Consequences
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Parole Eligibility

Projected Dollars Saved


Significant outcomes

  • Georgia’s prison population down 4%
  • Number of annual prison commitments at lowest levels since 2002
  • Number of African-Americans committed to prison in Georgia is now lower than at any time since 1988

When I first became Governor I was concerned about something that I was told Republicans shouldn’t really be concerned about and that was the fact that we were the tenth largest state in population but that we had the fourth largest prison population.”

Governor Nathan Deal, April 2013

About Governor Deal

On January 10, 2011, Nathan Deal took the oath of office to become Georgia’s 82nd Governor. Only the second Republican to hold that office since Reconstruction, Deal entered the Governor’s mansion inheriting a growing prison population and a looming budget shortfall.

In 2011, Georgia was on the precipice. It had the fourth highest incarceration rate in the nation, imprisoning about 1 out of every 70 citizens. Between 1990 and 2011, according to reports by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, the state’s prison population more than doubled. In that same time period, Georgia’s correctional spending ballooned from $492 million to over $1 billion annually, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. And the years to come looked even worse: Georgia’s prison population was projected to grow by another eight percent over the next five years to 60,000 inmates, well outpacing the national average.

The state had reached a crossroads. It could continue down the costly path of over-incarceration and over-criminalization, or it could choose to carve out a different path. That path, modeled on Texas initiative from over a decade before, would focus on community-based alternatives to prison, take a hard look at reclassifying low-level drug offenses, and expand opportunities for offenders to successfully reenter society.

In his first Inaugural address, Governor Deal reaffirmed his commitment to the core responsibilities and limitations of government. “I was not elected to make easy decisions, but difficult ones,” he reminded the electorate as he spoke on Georgia’s need to move past the tough on crime, “lock ‘em up” rhetoric of the past.

In the six succeeding years, Deal stood by that promise and partnered with the General Assembly to secure the passage of five comprehensive justice reform measures. Each piece of legislation, one for nearly every year of Deal’s governorship, sought to reform a different sector of Georgia’s justice system. From juvenile justice to reentry, sentencing reform to civil asset forfeiture, he has consistently championed policies that are cost-effective, responsive, and focused on public safety without coming at the expense of rehabilitation.

As a result, Georgia’s prison population stands at 52,683 as of January 20, 2017–down from a peak of 54, 895 in July 2012. The number of annual prison commitments has dropped to its lowest since since 2002. The number of African-Americans committed to prison in Georgia is now lower than at any time since 1988.

Notable Reforms

In his first legislative session as Georgia’s chief executive, Governor Deal secured passage of H.B. 1176, which:

Sentencing Reform

  • Raised the felony theft threshold–the first raise since 1982–from $500 to $1500. The legislation also provided an increase in the shoplifting threshold from $300 to $500.
  • Created a graduated scale of penalties for felony theft, forgery, and burglary based on the seriousness of the offense or the value of the stolen items.
  • Revised penalties for drug possession, creating a graduated scale based on the weight of the possessed narcotic. The bill also restricted drug possession from applying to recidivist statute.

Corrections Reform

  • Required the Georgia Board of Corrections to use risk-based assessment tools when guiding sentencing, treatment, and management of incoming inmates and outgoing probationers.
  • Reinvested $11.6 million into accountability courts, which focus on drug offenders and offenders suffering from mental illness.
  • Reinvested $5.7 million into a new Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) program to help cut recidivism among offenders with substance abuse issues.
  • Capped sentences at Probation Detention Centers (PDC) to 180 days, reducing jail time by offenders awaiting transfer.
  • Streamlined transfer of inmates between state and county.

In 2013, the Georgia General Assembly passed–with the Governor’s backing–H.B. 349 & H.B. 242, which:

Government Efficiency

  • Created the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform, consisting of 15 members, which is tasked with conducting biennial adult and juvenile justice system reviews until 2023.

Sentencing Reform

  • Revised mandatory minimum sentences, in certain instances, to give judges and attorneys discretion to impose lesser sentences when circumstances do not warrant a more severe mandatory minimum.

Collateral Consequences

  • Provided that drug court defendants and those enrolled in approved mental health programs are eligible to have their driver’s license restored in certain instances.

Juvenile Justice

  • Expanded community-based alternatives for low-level juvenile offenders.
  • Prohibited residential commitment for all juvenile status offenders and certain misdemeanants.
  • Focused resources on higher-risk juvenile offenders by allowing low-level offenders to be shifted on administrative caseloads.

In 2015, Governor Deal issued an Executive Order, which prohibits state agencies from using previous criminal history as an automatic disqualifier for employment.

For the 2016 Legislative Session, Governor Deal secured the passage of S.B. 367, which:

Juvenile Justice

  • Restricted the use of secure detention for youth 13 years and younger of age, except for those convicted of serious offenses.
  • Adjusted Georgia’s public school disruption statutes to ensure that students are properly handled through the school disciplinary process, rather than being sent to detention centers or delinquent facilities.

Sentencing Reform

  • Strengthened Georgia’s First Offender Act, which allows certain offenders charged with a first-time offense to avoid both a conviction and a public record if they successfully complete their sentence.
  • Reformed Georgia’s misdemeanor probation system to require that before a person can be arrested for failing to report for probation or for failing to pay the fines and fees associated, a written case must be made for incarceration.

Collateral Consequences

  • Removed the lifetime ban on food stamp eligibility post-conviction on a felony drug offense.
  • Expanded the existing prohibitions on state agencies from using criminal history as a disqualifier for employment to also include state occupational licensing authorities.
  • Retroactively reinstated the driver’s licenses of those convicted of a drug offense prior to 2013.

Parole Eligibility

  • Extended parole eligibility to non-violent recidivist drug offenders.

For the 2017 Legislative Session, Governor Deal passed S.B. 174, S.B. 175, and S.B. 176, which:

Parole & Probation

  • Allows for more educational programs to encourage people on probation to get employment. The bill is also meant to bring down the high rate of parolees in the state by allowing them to use community service to waive fine requirements.

Juvenile Justice

  • Allows judges to rule for more parental involvement and detain dangerous juveniles for longer amounts of time.

Fines & Fees

  • Requires a reminder in the mail for people who must show up to court if they commit a minor traffic violation.

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