Georgia leads the country in the number of people under correctional supervision – currently 1 in 13 statewide, starkly higher than the 1 in 31 nationwide rate. And two-thirds of those eventually released from prison are likely to be rearrested within three years of their release. Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) has engaged with this issue head-on through its Prisoner Reentry Initiative.
After forming a prisoner reentry working group in 2013, GCO used its expert insights to produce two landmark reports – Increasing Employment Opportunities for Ex-Offenders (Dec 2013) and, A High Price to Pay (revised May 2015) – both of which presented recommended solutions to policymakers. In the years that followed, nearly all of GCO’s recommendations have been passed into laws, not only enhancing opportunities for former inmates to reintegrate into society and reducing recidivism risks, but also helping tens of thousands of individuals and families who had suffered from an inability to get back on their feet after reentering society. With a 6 percent drop in Georgia’s prison population since 2012 – a $264 million saving for taxpayers – the reforms spearheaded by GCO are driving this positive trend. Having experienced great success through its research and advocacy model, GCO is collaborating with various groups to implement the Prisoner Reentry Initiative nationwide to give formerly incarcerated individuals and their families a renewed and revitalized outlook on life.
"A laser-like focus on building authentic relationships and seeking common ground makes it possible to pursue bipartisan policy reforms without sacrificing your principles," said Eric Cochling, executive vice president and general counsel for GCO.
GCO’s unique use of the working group model to bring together an assortment of stakeholders elevated its work by bridging research, policy, and practice to advocate feasible and common-sense reform. The working group also provided respected thought leaders ready to advocate the solutions it was proposing.
GCO is now working to export its successful initiative to other states by partnering with American Legislative Exchange Council, Right on Crime, and State Policy Network while also working with American Enterprise Institute and the U.S. Congress to implement similar criminal justice reforms on a national scale. The Prisoner Reentry Initiative has already successfully promoted greater access to employment and increased economic freedom in Georgia, making it an attractive example to follow.
“GCO's Prisoner Reentry Initiative demonstrates that compassion for the incarcerated and their families can be aligned with the interests of taxpayers and public safety,” said Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips. “It's a wonderful initiative that deserves to be emulated.”
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Atlas Network believes that some of the best lessons for achieving impact are taught by sharing success stories of similar organizations. Over the next several years, we will be producing a series of Case Studies, based on exceptional think tanks within the Atlas Network. The case study above features the work of the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This and subsequent case studies in the series will provide insight, context, and advice on running effective think tanks. If you would like more in-depth analysis, guidance, and discussion, be sure to participate in Atlas Network Leadership Academy's Think Tank Impact online course. This course, run quarterly throughout the year, will allow you to learn, share, and address your organization's challenges along with others from the worldwide freedom movement.