Felony Probation Bench Card

By James Rodatus, Policy Analyst

Felony Probation Bench CardGeorgia’s Criminal Justice Reform Council focused on felony probation leading up to the 2017 legislative session.  With nearly 206,000 people on felony probation, Georgia has the highest felony probation rate in the country.  Georgia has a history of imposing long felony probation sentences, and often imposing lengthy split sentences which combine a term of probation after a prison sentence.  The Council’s goals of improving reentry outcomes and obtaining cost savings led to a deeper look at what drives Georgia’s large number of felony probationers. It learned that probationers who recidivate are most likely to do so in the first year of probation, and that probationers on probation for a non-violent offense reoffend at significantly lower rates than people sentenced to prison.  The Council therefore decided to make changes to Georgia’s laws on probation to enable more low risk offenders to finish probation early, and allow probation officers to concentrate their resources on higher risk offenders and offenders in the early part of their sentence[1].

The Judicial Council of Georgia has authorized the creation of a felony probation bench card to highlight the changes recommended by the Criminal Justice Reform Council and implemented by the legislature.  First among these was the creation of the Behavioral Incentive Date (BID).  This change to OCGA § 17-1-7 requires all newly sentenced felony probationers who have no prior felony convictions to be given a BID.  This date must not exceed three years from the date of the sentence.  If the probationer has no new arrests, has been compliant with all of his or her probation conditions, and has paid all restitution, the Department of Community Supervision (DCS) must provide the court with an order terminating probation.  The judge has discretion on whether to grant the order, and the prosecuting attorney has an opportunity to request a hearing on the order.

For people who have been sentenced to probation after conviction of a qualified nonviolent offense, DCS must file a petition to terminate probation after three years if the probationer has no new arrests, has paid all restitution, and has had no probation revocations.  In this situation, DCS is not required to create an order, and the court may take whatever action it determines would be for the best interest of justice and the welfare of society.  OCGA § 42-8-37.

These two changes should allow DCS to remove many low risk nonviolent offenders from probation, and allow its probation officers to concentrate on a smaller number of high risk offenders.

When an offender is serving a split sentence with both parole and probation, the conditions of parole must now mirror his or her probation conditions.  This change was designed to ensure greater compliance and less confusion as offenders transfer from parole to probation.  The Board of Pardons and Paroles may also commute the parole of a parolee who has completed 12 consecutive months of parole supervision.  This action would put an offender back on probation and under the court’s supervision sooner.

Download a pdf here.


[1] Report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, February 2017, pages 8-9.



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