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January 5--  Changes to Georgia's criminal justice system are expected to be considered by the Georgia General Assembly.


Senator Tommie Williams (left) and State Representative Greg Morris.

At Thursday's Pre-Legislative Forum hosted by the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons said jail terms for non-violent offenders like drug abusers may be reduced to save the state money.

"The folks were locking up for ten years for a drug offense, we need to look at the front side of that to make sure we've done all we can to help the folks before we just send them to prison which cost about $50,000 a year. Whether the sentencing is the right amount of time or whether there are some things we can do with drug courts or other provisions needs to be considered," the Senator said.

Senator Williams says reducing the high school dropout rate will help keep people out of jail and he notes efforts like the local career academy and the new high school ROTC program are positive steps in that direction.

Meanwhile, Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight is afraid reduced jail time for state prisoners will overload local jails.

"Probably about two-thirds of those folks they let out will end up back in jail and that will impact Georgia sheriffs.  That will give us a problem with being over filled and I don't know what we'll do with all of them," he says.

State Representative Greg Morris of Vidalia believes you won't find many lawmakers willing to support a program perceived to be soft on crime.

"Most of the people I know who got off drugs, it wasn't because of anything the state did.  It was because they made a personal decision to change their lives. Now if we can do anything to help that, then I'm for it.  However, my primary concern is public safety and the protection of public property.  If that means we have to pay extra to do it, I think it's worth the cost," Morris says.

Senator Williams notes the Department of Corrections budget accounts for $1.2 billion of the state's $18 billion budget.  He says Governor Deal believes reducing the inmate population is one way the state can save tax dollars.