Speaking at an event on prisoner re-entry, U.S. Attorney Sally Yates and Gov. Nathan Deal urged business leaders to give people who have been convicted of a felony a fair chance in the hiring process.
Roughly two-thirds of the people released from state prisons and 40 percent of those released from federal prisons end up committing another offense within three years, and a lack of employment is a big reason for the high recidivism rates, Yates said. Literacy programs, substance abuse treatment and housing assistance are helpful for people recently released from prison, she said, “but if they don’t have a job, it’s pretty much all for naught.”
Yates said simply prosecuting and jailing people is not going to make communities safer. She said effective prevention and re-entry measures are also needed.
Deal said the state has a moral and financial obligation to ensure that prisoners are better equipped and more skilled when they come out than when they were locked up.
“I see no reason why anyone should be released from a Georgia state prison unless they have achieved a high school diploma” or a GED certificate, he said.
The state plans to increase the high school diploma and GED programs available in prisons and also to add more skill training to help prisoners get jobs once they’re released, Deal said. The funding for these programs would come from shifting money around within the Department of Corrections budget, he said.
The governor said he also intends to ensure that all convicted felons will have a face-to-face interview to tell their story if they apply for certain state jobs. He encouraged private businesses to do likewise, though he acknowledged that some might hesitate to look at convicted felons when so many who haven’t been convicted of crimes don’t have jobs.
Deal emphasized the strides the state has already made in terms of criminal justice reform, citing sweeping legislation passed during the past two years to address problems in the adult and juvenile justice systems. Other measures are likely to come in the form of legislation based on recommendations by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform during the current legislative session and in subsequent years, he said.