Gov. Nathan Deal seeks reforms to help prisoners re-enter society

By Maria Saporta

Georgia Gov. Nathan  Deal plans for the next legislative session to complete the third leg of his criminal justice reform stool — supporting transition and re-entry into the community for people who have been in prison.

Deal spoke to the Rotary Club of Atlanta Monday when he gave a preview of the 2014 legislative session as well as the messages that likely will be part of his re-election campaign next year.

“There are other things at work in our society — things that are not the most pleasant things to talk about,” Deal said. “We took on criminal justice reform — not something that a Republican governor should do.”

But he said the first reform legislation passed unanimously in the House and the Senate showing that the state “can do great things” if legislative leaders are giving the right information.

The next leg was juvenile justice reform and working to make sure young people stay out of prison after their first brush with the law. He said the state has been working on that effort by creating alternatives, such as increasing mental health courts.

“The third leg is the most difficult — supporting transition and re-entry for those who have been in prison,” Deal said, adding that helping felons re-enter society after being released from prison “is an undertaking that government alone can’t do.”

The state is seeking to provide educational skills for those in prison, and it is partnering with the technical colleges to provide skilled training so that they can develop a marketable skill while in prison. But Deal said he will need help from the private sector to hire people with a criminal record — often those who are the hardest to employ.

Deal also told Rotarians that Christmas came early for him this year when Site Selection Magazine named Georgia as the No. 1 state in which to do business. That had been one of his goals as governor, and that he thanked the audience for helping him make Georgia as strong as it is today and brighter for our children.

“We’ve made some important strides in that regard,” Deal said. “We’ve gone through a Great Recession, and the unemployment rate is at a five-year low. We hope it will continue in that direction.”

The governor also expressed optimism that the federal government would be move ahead with approvals to deepen the Savannah Port. He said that he expects that early in the new year, Congress will pass a bill authorizing the project’s budget to be $662 million — an increase from $234 million, an estimate that’s decades old.

Meanwhile, Deal said he will propose that the state set aside another $35 million for the project — virtually completing the state’s local match with a total of about $266 million.

During the question and answer period, Deal was asked about the water wars between Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Deal said that he had hoped there would have been a tri-state agreement during his first term, but obviously that does not appear likely since the case is now back in the courts.

Although he said he doesn’t want to say the lawsuit “was motivate by politics, it might have been,” Deal said, receiving a laugh from the audience.

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