Deal Signs Bail Reform Bill, Closing Out Criminal Justice Reform Campaign

Gov. Nathan Deal signs SB 407 into law at the State Capitol Monday, surrounded by current and former members of his Criminal Justice Reform Council.

Emma Hurt / WABE

Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bail reform bill into law Monday. It was one of the final parts of his criminal justice reform campaign.

Deal got emotional as he reflected on the criminal justice reforms he has championed for eight years. Reforms like this new bill, which is designed to keep Georgians with misdemeanors who can’t afford bail from getting stuck in prison.

“This was an issue that I brought up in my first State of the State address back in January of 2011,” he said at the signing at the Capitol. “I had no idea that we would be this successful.”

Deal created a Criminal Justice Reform Council that year, to research and propose reforms.

He went on to explain that the new bill “requires judges to consider the financial circumstances of an accused individual when determining bail.”

Deal said people warned him that bail reform would be tough to get done in Georgia, but the bill passed the State House and Senate unanimously.

He recalled when he took office, Georgia’s prisons were full. The state was spending $25 million per year to house its prisoners in local jails.

That’s no longer the case, and the Governor said it’s because the total prison population has shrunk — even though Georgia’s overall population has grown.

Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, said he doesn’t agree that this type of prisoner is an issue in Georgia. He has yet to gather “conclusive data to show either way.”

He said his group is not opposed to the bill, though, because it doesn’t “hurt” judges’ ability to set appropriate cash bonds.

Deal has until the end of Tuesday to sign or veto any remaining bills. Those he doesn’t act on will automatically become law.