Nathan Deal

A criminal justice group led by former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal released several recommendations Wednesday on sentencing and quality-of-life reforms for federal prison inmates.

A criminal justice group led by former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal released several recommendations Wednesday on sentencing and quality-of-life reforms for federal prison inmates.

Outlined in a report from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Council on Criminal Justice, the recommendations call for broad changes to the U.S. judicial and penitentiary system. They range from eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes and creating a federal waiver for states with legal cannabis to increasing grant funds for prisoner education and expanding Medicaid coverage for substance-abuse treatment.

The report was drafted by a group of criminal justice experts chaired by Deal, who served two terms as governor starting in 2011. They include a former Philadelphia mayor, former Washington, D.C., police chief, former Massachusetts U.S. attorney, a former prisoner and Sally Yates, the Atlanta-based attorney who served as U.S. deputy attorney general in the Obama administration.

In the report, Deal wrote the group’s work started soon after President Donald Trump signed prison-reform legislation in 2018. It consisted of members from different political stripes who “did not see eye to eye on everything” but settled on “bold recommendations that are also pragmatic and hold potential to have the most substantial impact on Americans,” Deal wrote.

“The harsh political rhetoric of the past has softened, replaced by possibilities for progress on an issue that once was so divisive,” Deal said. “Reform won’t be easy, but we can and must use this pivotal moment in time to work for a more fair and effective federal system that provides safety and justice for all.”

Deal’s tenure as governor saw passage of several initiatives aimed at deterring crime rather than punishing it, including creation of Georgia’s accountability courts. In an effort to curb recidivism, those courts provide alternative sentences outside prison to help employ thousands of Georgia inmates with mental illness or substance-abuse issues.

Like other state-funded programs, accountability courts are facing deep budget cuts spurred by the economic slowdown of the coronavirus pandemic. The extent of those cuts and others will be decided next month when the General Assembly reconvenes to pass the 2021 fiscal year budget.

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