State of the Judiciary

By Bill Hamrick

CARROLLTON (February 21, 2011) – Each year, the legislature is visited by the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who delivers an update on Georgia’s judiciary. As an attorney and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I find Chief Justice Carol Hunstein’s comments to be a fresh perspective on the future of Georgia’s judicial system.

Georgia’s prisons operate at 106 percent of prison capacity. Rather than lock up drug addicts and the mentally ill, Justice Hunstein encouraged us to more efficiently use prison space. We must prioritize prison beds for serious criminals like those who commit violent crimes and those who commit crimes against children.

It costs more than $1 billion annually to operate our prisons, probation and parole systems and Georgia has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation. Chief Justice Hunstein said that one of every 13 Georgians is behind bars or on probation or parole. These are staggering figures that must be addressed. The State Bar of Georgia’s BASICS program has helped by training inmates about to be released in the skills necessary to become contributing members of society. This is an example of how we are working to reduce the recidivism rate and reserve our prisons for dangerous and violent offenders.

Hunstein outlined one of the greatest successes in the Judiciary: specialty courts. She said that if we hope to save taxpayer money while protecting the public’s safety, the criminal justice system must change the way it handles offenders with drug and alcohol addictions and mental illness. Georgia’s drug courts, DUI courts and mental health courts have become a national model. She explained that these are not “feel-good, soft-on-crime alternatives to prison.” They keep the public safer by reducing the number of repeat-offenders through treatment for non-violent offenders and strict accountability measures.

Speaking to the future, Hunstein commented on a new way of compiling lists of citizens who are eligible to serve on juries. The purpose of this change is to protect everyone’s constitutional rights to equal protection and a jury of his or her peers. Technological advances have allowed us to improve the quality of data about people eligible to serve. The new system, she explained, would use voter registration lists that may not completely represent society and vital statistics and drivers’ records that would help fill in the holes to ensure fair and impartial juries.

Justice Hunstein emphasized that the entire judicial branch receives less than 1 percent of the entire state budget but they generated more than $544 million in fees last year, and almost $90 million of that was returned to the state general fund. The legislature must continue to support the Judiciary and the important work they do. I look forward to working with Chief Justice Hunstein and the rest of the judges, attorneys and staff that make up the Judicial Branch.

Sen. Bill Hamrick serves as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He represents the 30th Senate District which includes portions of Carroll, Douglas, and Paulding counties.  He may be reached at 404.656.0036 or via e-mail at bill.hamrick@senate.ga.gov.

COLUMN
For Immediate Release:
February 21, 2011
For Information Contact:
Kallarin Richards, Deputy Director
Katie Wright, Communications Manager
katie.wright@senate.ga.gov
404.656.0028

Posted February 21st, 2011 in Senate Press Release. Tagged: .