A bill to tighten rules for allowing ex-offenders in Georgia to be released early from probation that should help thousands of people maintain jobs and housing passed out of the state Senate on Thursday.
Sponsored by Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, the bill would let first-time felons in Georgia sentenced to prison for 12 months or fewer seek early termination of their probation after they’ve been released, paid court fines and avoided another run-in with the law for two years.
The bill would allow well-behaving probationers to petition courts for early termination of their supervision terms after three years. Its aim is to cut down Georgia’s highest-in-the-country probation population, Strickland said.
“In Georgia, we should incentivize individuals who make mistakes, serve their time, pay their restitution and stay out of trouble,” Strickland said from the Senate floor.
“We should be helping Georgians who have earned a second chance in life to get a job, buy a house, start a family or accomplish anything else they dream of doing in this state without the stigma of probation hanging over their heads.”
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and now heads to the state House of Representatives.
It follows legislation in 2017 under then-Gov. Nathan Deal aimed at easing rules on terminating probation early. Those changes have not worked as planned, with only a handful of the roughly 50,000 eligible probationers actually being granted early termination as of last year, advocates say.
Many Georgians on probation face lengthy supervision terms lasting at least a decade, limiting their ability to land jobs and maintain steady housing from landlords wary of their status as probationers, said Lisa McGahan, policy director for the nonprofit Georgia Justice Project.
“We know that for people to be successful, they have to have access to economic opportunity [and] they have to have access to employment,” McGahan told lawmakers at a state Senate Judiciary Committee last week. “When you’re serving a very long probation sentence, those two things are mutually exclusive.”
Strickland’s bill marks a priority on Republican state senators’ criminal justice reform agenda in the current legislative session, along with another measure by state Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, that would bar licensing boards from denying business licenses to most Georgians on probation.
Cosponsors of Strickland’s bill include Sens. John Kennedy, R-Macon; Bruce Thompson, R-White; Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia; and Ben Watson, R-Savannah.