Page 3A The Champion Free Press, Friday, Aug. 24,, 2012
High court chief justice Hunsteinwants fewer in jail
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by Kate Brumback ATLANTA (AP) A nearlythree-decade veteran of the bench, Georgia SupremeCourt Chief Justice
is a big advocate
of nding alternatives to
locking people up andthinks the state is on theright track with its focus oncriminal justice reform.“We need to be open tonew ideas rather than just put them away in prison aslong as you can,” she saidin an interview with TheAssociated Press earlier thismonth. “If you put someonein the prison system, youeffectively have harmedtheir ability to get work,and you probably haveharmed them socially, as far as coming out and being a productive citizen.”She mentioned anexample from her time asa DeKalb County Superior Court judge. She had tohand down a mandatory
minimum sentence of ve
years to a 17-year-old whohad used a plastic pistol tosteal a Starter jacket.“I had no leeway,” shesaid. “Now, when thatyoung man comes out, hemay have a high schooleducation. He won’t haveany college. He will have nocareer. And it’s going to be
very difcult for him to be
successful in life.”Hunstein was part of a panel that presentedrecommendations to thestate Legislature, whichresulted in the adoptionthis year of legislation tooverhaul the state’s criminal justice system to providealternative sentences for nonviolent offenders.The reforms were widely praised and unanimouslyapproved by lawmakers in both chambers. Among the panel’s recommendationswere treatment programsfor drug offenders andincreased supervision of released inmates.A next step in the processis a focus on juvenileoffenders, somethingHunstein feels stronglyabout.Teenagers don’tnecessarily demonstrate the best judgment, but lockingthem up isn’t always theanswer and often makes itmore likely they’ll commitfuture crimes, she said.“I think we have toaddress problems withour juveniles to preventthem from becoming adultcriminals,” she said.Locking people up for less time can also savethe state enormous sumsof money, an advantagethat’s not lost on Hunstein.Since she took over aschief justice three yearsago, she’s had to deal withsubstantial budget concerns.
During her rst year as chief justice, she had to re some
employees and furloughothers. She and the other justices volunteered to takeunpaid furlough days tokeep costs down.“It’s not quite as bad nowas it was, but there weretimes when we were lookingfor contributions of pensand pencils and that sort of thing, just to save as muchmoney as possible,” shesaid.Hunstein was appointedto the state high court in1992. She became chief justice in 2009 and hasabout a year left in her term,after which she’ll continueto serve on the court asa regular justice. She’sthinking ahead and hasmore ideas for reforming thecriminal justice system inGeorgia.“I’m very interested
in trafc misdemeanors,”
she said. “Most citizens inthis state don’t realize thatwhen they plead guilty to
most trafc offenses, they
are pleading guilty to amisdemeanor.”That plea can mean a
ne and sometimes jail
time and makes it so theoffender technically has acriminal record, she said.Many states have changed
this so that some trafc
violations—like speedingor running a red light—arelesser offenses. Hunsteinwould like to see Georgiamake a similar change or at least look into providinga way for most drivers toget that conviction off their record.She would also like thestate to consider a pretrialrelease program that wouldallow people accused of certain crimes to be releasedfrom jail without paying bond prior to trial. Thiswould ease the burden onthe local jail system andwould allow people to geton with their lives untiltheir cases are heard.“When you are put in the jail system and you haveto wait to have your casedisposed of by the countyor the city, you’re talkingweeks, sometimes months,which means that you maylose your job, you may loseyour apartment, you maylose your home, you maylose your family becauseyou’re waiting there for anadjudication,” she said.