Gov. Nathan Deal (Photo: John Disney/ALM) Gov. Nathan Deal (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

A funny thing happened to Gov. Nathan Deal on the way to Douglas County in the middle of a storm Wednesday evening.

After calling from Air Force One to offer aid to the many communities in Georgia hit hard by Hurricane Michael, President Donald Trump asked the governor, “Where are you going?” And that’s how Georgia’s storyteller-in-chief spun the yarn to rally the troops at the Criminal Justice Reform Summit at Douglas County High School.

Deal said he told the president, “I’m going to Douglas County, our leader in the accountability courts that I spoke about when I was in Washington.”

To which Trump replied, according to Deal, “You tell Douglas County how proud I am of their criminal justice reforms.”

At least that’s the way the story was told by those who braved the storm to gather at the home of the Tigers in Douglasville, 32 miles west of Atlanta.

Douglas County Solicitor General Matthew Krull provided those details and more in a news release Thursday. Also Wednesday evening, Krull and Breezy Straton of Douglas County Economic Development Authority jointly announced a new criminal justice reform program called Careers, Not Convictions. They said the program will redirect people being prosecuted by the solicitor’s office—which handles misdemeanors—into job training and placement programs, allowing them an opportunity to avoid conviction by pursuing gainful education and employment.

Deal has often said that “educational reform is the greatest criminal justice reform.” To further that goal, Deal recently appointed Krull to the Georgia State Board of Education. State prisons since have begun offering high school diploma and job-training programs.

Krull reported highlights from the evening’s program, including the governor’s review of criminal justice reform milestones: 149 accountability courts around the state offering education, counseling, job training and mentoring; a prison population that is the lowest since 1987, down 20 percent since the beginning of Deal’s first term in 2011; and a 30 percent reduction in the number of African-American men in prison.

“The leadership of Governor Deal has resulted in the change from a reactive, punishment-focused system that saw few results and massive amounts of recidivism to a proactive one that focuses on accountability, treatment, and real change,” Krull said in the news release.

The Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (@GA CJCC) tweeted a photo of Deal speaking at the summit with this quote: “It takes courage to make a difference. … I’m going to hold you up as an example.”