From the Field: Georgia Makes Significant Strides in Criminal Justice Reform

Over the past five years, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) has launched criminal justice reform efforts that have made Georgia an exemplar in reentry innovation and recidivism reduction.

Housing advocates have mobilized around Governor Deal’s initiatives and have used the momentum from his efforts to push for housing programs targeted towards reducing recidivism. Advocates, including Paul Bolster of the Georgia Supportive Housing Alliance, Elizabeth Appley of Housing Georgia, and Doug Ammar of the Georgia Justice Project, formed a Reentry Housing Working Group. The working group—comprised of housing advocates, government officials, service providers, and others—will analyze and advocate for programs and policies that support successful reentry for returning citizens that will enable them to be successfully restored to their communities, reduce recidivism, promote public safety, and conserve limited public resources.

The Reentry Housing Working Group recently submitted thirteen recommendations to the Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Council that included steps the state of Georgia could take in order to build on its early success in supporting returning citizens through housing programs.

Specifically, the working group urged the state to publicize HUD’s guidance on blanket bans of those with criminal records (see Memo, 4/11) and to develop and promote rules to monitor compliance with the HUD guidance.

The working group also recommended that the state expand and build upon many of Georgia’s existing programs to better meet the needs of returning citizens. One such program, the Reentry Partnership Housing (RPH) program—which is designed to provide housing to individuals on parole—has the capacity to assist 500 individuals at any given time and provides landlords with limited stipends for up to three months. The working group has recommended that the program be expanded to serve more individuals for longer periods of time.

Similarly, the working group urged Georgia to build upon its Housing Voucher Program, which serves individuals with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI), by developing a pilot voucher program for returning citizens with a diagnosis of SPMI. Georgia requires individuals with SPMI to secure permanent housing prior to be released on parole. The proposed voucher program would target individuals who are otherwise eligible for parole, but don't have access to housing.

Beyond expanding existing programs, the Reentry Housing Working Group has also made a recommendation to establish new programs for returning citizens. The working group proposed an income tax credit for landlords who house returning citizens, modeling their proposed program after a recently established tax credit for employers who provide parolees with employment within one year of release. The tax incentive would help expand the supply of available housing for returning citizens.

In addition, the working group is also calling on the state of Georgia to help reduce housing barriers for individuals leaving prison by granting the Department of Criminal Supervision (DCS) the authority to issue Completion Certificates. These certificates would reduce landlords’ liability in leasing to returning citizens, making landlords more likely to do so. By allowing DCS to issue these certificates, an ability currently restricted to the Department of Corrections, Georgia would enable individuals currently on parole or probation to benefit from the program and the increased likelihood for housing security it provides.

Together, the working group’s recommendations, which also include provisions for state identifications, expedited restoration of SSI/SSDI and post-incarceration inclusion in Medicaid, in-reach programs, and local reentry coalitions, have the potential to strengthen the reform system, reducing recidivism and lowering the cost of Georgia’s criminal justice system.

The recommendations of Georgia’s Reentry Housing Working Group represent the types of innovative programs needed across the country. In order for criminal justice reform to be successful, we must ensure housing programs for returning citizens are in place. By investing in housing for those leaving the criminal justice system, Georgia would create a model for the rest of the country.

For more information on the Reentry Housing Working Group, contact Paul Bolster at bolster@bellsouth.net