A new bill being sponsored by six Republicans in the State Senate would provide additional opportunities for judges to choose not to require bail for poor defendants accused of low-level offenses. The bill would also give police officers the flexibility to issue citations in place of criminal charges.
Deal is supporting this bill and claims it’s the next step for criminal justice reform and a “foundation for a more equitable criminal justice system and brings us another step forward in making Georgia a safer, more prosperous place to call home.”
But we don’t want to give Deal too much credit. After all, if Deal truly cared about reducing crime and having fewer people in jail, he would invest in increasing the education budget and decriminalizing marijuana, two things he has staunchly opposed while in office.
Deal’s attempt to get behind this bill comes across as too little, too late. He’s treating some of the symptoms his own diseases created instead of working on the diseases themselves.
Back in October, mayor Kasim Reed decriminalized marijuana in Atlanta. Decriminalization keeps people out of jail for possession of small amounts of marijuana, taking away some of the burdens on our criminal justice system and keeping families together.
However, Deal has blocked any level of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, including most medical marijuana. In Georgia, possessing less than one ounce can still result in up to a year of jail time and a fine of $1,000.
In 2013, there were over 35,000 arrests for marijuana in Georgia, 85 percent of which were for personal possession. These arrests also disproportionately affect people of color, who are five times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts, despite whites using marijuana at virtually the same rate.
If Deal really wants to “bring us another step forward” he has to deal with the bigger issues underlying incarceration rates in Georgia. Decriminalizing marijuana would have a much bigger effect than waiving fines for misdemeanors.