On May 3, 2021, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed probation reform bill, SB 105, into law. The new law helps provide relief to people who are serving long sentences on felony probation if they meet certain criteria.
This law is the latest in a line of legislation aimed at reducing the state’s overgrown population of probationers. Once infamous for having some of the longest probation sentences in the country, Georgia decreased the length of its average sentence by 49% between 2000 and 2018, dropping to 35th place for probation duration in the process.
Reform legislation signed by former Governor Nathan Deal in July of 2017, was a big part of this change. That law created two pathways for early termination of probation:
Despite the reforms of recent years, Georgia continues to have more people on felony probation than any other state. Because of this, the Georgia Justice Project and other reform-minded activists championed SB 105, which they hope will help keep the trend moving in the right direction.
The new law builds on the 2017 legislation, making the criteria for early termination more explicit, and providing that there is a presumption of termination for people who qualify for the second path as well as the first. This means that people with prior criminal records will also be presumed to be eligible for relief if they meet the criteria, so long they are under sentence for a nonviolent property or drug crime. The newly specified criteria for this relief are roughly the same for both paths. In each case, a probationer seeking termination is required:
The text of the legislation is also clear about the fact that these changes apply retroactively to people who are already on probation—not just to people who are newly sentenced. The Georgia Justice Project estimates that roughly a quarter of Georgia’s felony probationers immediately became eligible for early termination when the law took effect earlier this month.