Georgia Justice Project has joined with other national and state organizations to call for the release of certain individuals from jails and prisons to minimize the threat to the health and lives of people who are incarcerated, but we are also focusing our energy on advocating for the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who are not locked up but are currently on probation or parole.
Georgia has – by far – the highest rate of correctional control in the country. Nationwide about 1 in 37 individuals is under correctional supervision but in Georgia that number is an astounding 1 in 18. About 420,000 people in Georgia are on probation or parole right now. Georgia has the longest probation sentences in the nation – on average over three times longer than other states. Georgians stay on probation long after any supervisory benefit has ended. And they pay monthly fees of $35-$40 while on probation – even when they are not required to report to their probation officer in person.
It was already difficult to find a job while on probation, nationally two-thirds of probationers make less than $20,000 a year and 40% earn less than $10,000 a year. Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis nearly one million Georgians have lost their jobs, and many of those people were on probation. At GJP we want to ensure the rights and well-being of people on probation who may be struggling financially and making a decision of whether or not to put food on the table or keep up with their probation fees.
To address our concerns GJP drafted a list of Probation Best Practices During the Covid-19 Pandemic. We sent these recommendations to the Department of Community Supervision, the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia, and the Council of State Judges of Georgia. We have engaged in conversations with several of these agencies about our best practices to learn more about how probation issues are being handled. Based on what we have learned we are creating a Know Your Rights resource for people on probation, which we will release soon.
This crisis is not going to go away when the Stay at Home orders are lifted or when the medical crisis improves. The economic impact on vulnerable Georgians, particularly those on probation, will continue to be felt for a long time, and we need to find solutions that prevent more people from being incarcerated simply because they are struggling financially.
GJP’s recommendations, among others, include:
- Waiving probation fees for at least six months, so fees do not accumulate;
- Suspending restitution payments;
- Suspending special conditions imposed as part of a sentence; and
- Suspending issuance of probation warrants for technical violations.
You can read our full list of recommendations here.