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Trump and Georgia diverge on criminal justice policy 

Even as Gov. Nathan Deal was signing the latest batch of state laws designed to keep lower-level offenders out of prison, the Trump administration was preparing a crackdown seeking the toughest possible charges against offenders convicted of nonviolent drug violations.

The U.S. Justice Department released directives Friday that call for more mandatory minimum sentences and direct prosecutors to pursue the strictest punishments available. It was a sweeping shift in criminal justice policy, reversing Obama-era policies to reduce penalties for some nonviolent offenses.

The split has Georgia’s Republican leaders trying to reconcile an approach to criminal justice that echoed Barack Obama’s policies with a return to a tough-on-crime ethos from Donald Trump’s White House.

Deal’s criminal justice initiatives have transformed Georgia’s prison system and turned the state into a national model of how a conservative state can embrace a system of accountability courts and other cost-cutting changes to the corrections system while keeping violent offenders locked up.

But those statewide efforts now face a tougher audience in Washington. The new policies reflect Trump’s call for a “law and order” mentality that targets waves of gang violence and drug crime he said undermine the nation’s security.

Deal said Friday that he has no “great concerns” about the Justice Department’s shift, but he urged Trump’s administration to study the impact of Georgia’s initiatives.

“I know that you cannot translate all of that from the state level to the federal level,” the governor said after a press conference in Savannah. “But if they follow that general model and learn from our experiences, the taxpayers of this country will be well served.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.