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Thornton column: City calls for reform of early release rules

The Mayor and Council of LaGrange recently called for reform of the early release rules for violent offenders at the state level.

LaGrange saw an increase in murders in 2020. Specifically, in 2020 there were seven murders in LaGrange, as compared to four in 2019. The last time we had seven murders in LaGrange was actually 1997. We know the murder rate has been going up across the nation, and no city appears to be immune.

The good news is that suspects have been identified in those cases. The bad news, however, is that most of the individuals who apparently committed those murders in LaGrange in 2020 had previously been arrested for and convicted of serious violent crime.

In fact, six of the seven suspects identified in murders in LaGrange that occurred 2020 had been previously arrested an average of nineteen times each, and combined those six suspects had been previously convicted of twenty-five felonies. Of those seven suspects in those murders in 2020, five of them were on parole, felony probation, or out on bond pending felony charges when the homicides occurred.

As to violent crimes in general, such as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, in 2020 in LaGrange, 57% of those who were arrested for a violent crime were already on parole or probation or had been released on bond.  For property crimes in LaGrange in 2020, such as burglary, entering an auto, larceny, and auto theft, 59% of all identified and arrested subjects were on parole or probation or out on bond. This rate of recidivism is unacceptable.

Everyone should acknowledge that the judicial system and the prison system are separate and independent branches of state government. The Mayor and Council of LaGrange have no authority over those systems. Yet the residents of our city and cities across Georgia are suffering at the hands of violent offenders who have already been identified by the system but have also been released.  The LaGrange Police Department does an outstanding job protecting our residents and investigating crimes that occur, but their job is made much more difficult when the system releases violent offenders too soon and without adequate supervision.

That local experience is why the Mayor and Council have called upon our state leaders to review recent methods and trends in early release of offenders. While we recognize the importance of second chances, these recent statistics demonstrate a breakdown in the system as to early release and lack of supervision.

No one is calling for widespread incarceration or for casting such a wide net that we ensnare nonviolent individuals. Instead, we are encouraging thoughtful, targeted and merit-based processes that will more accurately predict those persons who are least likely to commit further violent crimes and that will supervise those who have been released. The current system is simply not working.