Six Steps to Cut Georgia’s High Recidivism Rate

Georgia has a recidivism rate of nearly one in three. During the 1990’s “get tough on crime” movement the Georgia state legislature created some of the toughest “repeat offender” laws in the country.  The cost of these laws are now having a direct impact, not only on the state budget, but the ability of newly released individuals to integrating successfully back into society.

Now, as observed by the prison reform agenda passed in the 2012 Legislative session, we as a state simply cannot afford the luxury of a segregated society where felons are safely on one side of the barbed wire fence and law abiding citizens are on the other. The question becomes, how do we get to the root cause of Georgia’s recidivism rate? The answer is simple.

Here are six steps to cut Georgia’s recidivism rate:

1.      Stop approaching the problem as one of “justified punishment” to one of “rehabilitation.” One definition of rehabilitation is “to reestablish the good reputation of (a person, one’s character or name, etc.).” The implementation of policy with this definition in mind will put Georgia on the right track to becoming a national leader on prison reform.

2.      Implement plans to make inmate access to education and funding for such programs easier.  Let’s hope that state lawmakers go further and reintroduce college coursework. The state has made a good first start with its new focus on education of inmates, while incarcerated, and the emphasis on firefighting programs, farming and vocational-technical programs as job training tools.

3.      Georgia should bar discrimination based upon felony conviction in employment cases where the felony is 10 years or older except in cases of employment for law enforcement or where a fiduciary responsibility is part of one’s job. The obsession with background checks most often systematically disqualifies anyone with a felony criminal record from even gaining an interview.

4.      Georgia needs to revamp its “Re-entry Program” to focus more on job training, getting a basic education (GED), and to guide newly released individuals to basic social services that will help them re-establish themselves as taxpayers back into the community.

5.      Georgia should adopt Democratic State Senator Emanuel Jones’s proposal to lift the food stamp ban against persons with drug-related convictions as part of the Governor’s 2013 Legislative Package. The Governor lent his support and drug-courts gained momentum as a judicial remedy for drug defendants and Senator Jones’s legislation is the logical next step.

6.      Lastly, greater incentives have to be granted to employers who hire convicted felons such as increased tax credits or salary offsets. General life skills classes, from learning, balancing a checkbook, job interviewing skills, and job training have to become a mandatory part of the incarceration experience.

While these ideas are most likely to be considered “radical” it is a starting point for a conversation on how we can help individuals reintegrate into society, find meaningful employment and restore self-esteem in newly released individuals. Every individual deserves the right to restore their good name. In turn, as a state and as a society, we have to develop policies that will not hold their mistakes against them for the rest of their lives.


  1. Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence says:

    Point by point:

    (1) How might the state rehabilitate one who has never established good character? And establishing good character is a “killer.” How do we differentiate between those who are truly sorry for their crimes, who have assumed responsibility for their lives and those who hope their “fronting” of a jailhouse conversion is successful.
    (2) Incentivize inmate academic progress and achievement as measured by independently-administered standardized tests such as the TABE, the GED and the SAT. Educational participation may be sitting on one’s ass in a classroom in lieu of performing prison work duties.
    (3) Good idea. Crime commission should carry a price short of lifetime prohibition.
    (4) Good idea.
    (5) Good idea.
    (6) Good idea with this caveat: Program participation should be not the criterion; demonstration to independent arbiters of the inmate’s achievement of these life skills should be the criterion.*

    I worked in a GDOC prison’s Ed Dept for almost 9 years in the 80s and early 90s..

  2. Burroughston Broch says:

    These steps are part of an answer, but not all of it.

    The first step should be to correct the societal ills that result in criminal behavior. I don’t want to get into a nature vs. nurture argument, but I believe that nurture is the dominant influence here. What we know for certain is that what we have been doing for the last 50 years has never worked. Generations of families living on welfare are not conducive to non-criminal behavior.

  3. Watson-Coleman has attacked this preblom in the wrong way. The first thing she should have done is call out the Corrections Administration. They have tried to hinder her for the past two years because they did not want anyone to become aware of just how bad a job they were doing on the issue of reentry and inmate education. Watson- Coleman exposed the preblom,she should have exposed those who caused the preblom. She should have asked how in a Department that spends over a BILLION DOLLARS EVERY YEAR LESS THAN $24 MILLION GOES TO EDUCATION PROGRAMS. That is only about 2%. New money is not needed to fix the preblom,NEW LEADERSHIP IS WHAT IS NEEDED! Simply divert another 2% of the already allotted budget and you would increase your education effort 100%! She should have asked how a BILLION DOLLAR department can’t organize itself well enough to attain all the needed paperwork for an inmate who is leaving. How hard is it to help a guy fill out DMV paperwork. THERE ARE EVEN OUTSIDE GROUPS WHO FOR NO COST WILL COME INTO THE PRISONS AND SPEAK TO INMATES WHO ARE CLOSE TO LEAVING AND GUIDE THEM SO THATTHEY HAVE ALL THEIR NEEDED OUTSIDE PAPERWORK( BIRTH CERTIFICATES, DRIVERS LICENSE,ETC.).Watson-Coleman did try, and she must be given credit for that. Unfortunately she has tried to tackle one of the most incompetent, corrupt,wasteful, inept, Department in the State of New Jersey.