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City concerned about release of violent offenders

The LaGrange City Council passed a resolution during its council meeting Tuesday asking for state officials to study recent methods and trends in the early release of offenders.

The resolution notes that six of the seven suspects identified in murders in LaGrange in 2020 had been arrested an average of 19 times each and combined had been convicted of 25 felonies. 

Five of the seven suspects were on parole, felony probation or out on bond pending felony charges, per the resolution.

Eight of the 10 homicide victims were also either on parole, felony probation or out on bond pending felony charges at the time of the incident.

In 2020, LaGrange had 10 homicides, the most since Lou Dekmar became police chief. Of those 10 homicides, seven were classified as murders.

The resolution states that 57% of violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault), 57% were on parole, probation or out on bond. A total of 59% of property crime suspects in 2020 were out on parole, probation or out on bond. 

“The recent experience of LaGrange calls into question whether appropriate safeguards are in place to prevent offenders with unacceptable criminal histories from being given the opportunities of parole, probation or release on bond,” the resolution reads. 

Dekmar said one of the murder suspects in LaGrange had been arrested 33 times previously, and two others 31 and 22 times. 

“My concern is that we’re starting to see an emphasis on community-based corrections that was tried in the 60s and 70s, and resulted in the astronomical crime rates that we saw in the 80s and early 90s,” Dekmar said. “That resulted in the increase in built prisons. And as I shared with you last time … not keeping the right people locked up is a concern, and it’s unfortunately playing out not just across our city but across the state and indeed across the nation.”

The resolution outlines that it will be forwarded to Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Speaker of the House David Ralston, the Council of Superior Court Judges and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Councilman Nathan Gaskin asked at the work session that the resolution be more clear regarding what the resolution was asking for. 

“I just want to make sure that the governor is aware that we have no intent for returning back to mass incarceration of people of color,” Gaskin said. “However, a lot of those victims that you just mentioned, they’re also African American men. So, I just want to make sure the governor is conscious that we don’t make this decision lightly, but that we’re also aware of the racial implications that could be involved in it.”

Mayor Jim Thornton said the city would re-evaluate the resolution before voting during its council meeting Tuesday evening.

“What we’re actually calling for is much more selective incarceration, and identifying who are those individuals that are likely to re-offend and commit additional violent crime and so forth, to isolate them from society, not to cast a wide blanket,” Thornton said.

The resolution passed unanimously.