State Rep. Jesse Petrea is co-hosting, along with Savannah City Alderman Julian Miller, a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. June 30 at Calvary Baptist Temple to hear ideas from our citizens.
From Jesse Petrea:
I was elected two years ago to represent State District 166 in the Georgia General Assembly. I ran on economic development, taxes, and protecting our 2nd amendment rights. Today, however, there is a looming threat to our community that also commands my attention.
I love Savannah. I was born and raised here. I love our people. We are a good, benevolent, giving people. We are faithful and hardworking. However, for all the good in our community, we have a cancer: violent crime. Our current crime rate is absolutely unacceptable. It is the major threat to our community, its security and its prosperity.
Thus, I am attacking this issue head-on to do all I can at the state level to help local leaders fight this threat. I am co-hosting, along with Savannah City Alderman Julian Miller, a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. June 30 at Calvary Baptist Temple to hear ideas from our citizens. Alderman Miller and I have been strategizing on ways to improve our circumstances for some time.
In 2016, we have recorded 27 homicides in Savannah-Chatham, nearly twice as many than last year. Overall, crime is up almost a fourth over 2015 and up 50 percent over 2014. We have a problem. The time has come to find and apply solutions.
One of the problems is the actions of our state Parole Board. Our state constitution provides for the existence of a Board of Pardons and Paroles. The board consists of five members appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
During the last legislative session, I introduced a bill to require earlier notice by the Parole Board on felons being returned to the community. We were successful in getting the board to agree to a new six-month’s notice prior to release of violent criminals. Unfortunately, to date, no new notices have been received. Since returning from session, I have been working with our district attorney and chief assistant DA to examine crimes committed by paroled individuals in our community. The results of that analysis are astounding. Since Jan. 29, 2016, 86 paroled felons on have been rearrested in Chatham County!
We continue to see numerous felons who have been paroled and are then rearrested. Unfortunately, due to the lack of transparency of board activity, we see no evidence that these rearrests are resulting in parole revocation. Our DA’s office has continued to request dispositions on these individuals. The board has not replied.
Given the above, I plan to introduce a bill next session that would address this seemingly crucial aspect of our crime problem. I seek input from citizens at our town hall event. I will be there along with Alderman Miller, District Attorney Meg Heap, Sheriff John Wilcher, State Rep. Ron Stephens, State Sen. Ben Watson, County Commission Chairman Al Scott and others, to hear from our constituents.
Meanwhile, we will be communicating with the Parole Board to understand the reasoning behind the positions it takes. We are not criticizing members of the board but the process. At a time when Georgia is reducing its prison population by releasing non-violent and drug-related offenders, why are we continuing to consider parole for violent felons? Parole is the release of a prisoner prior to completion of his/her sentence. It is clemency. Violent criminals don’t deserve clemency. They offered no clemency to their victims.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 71 percent of violent offenders are rearrested within three years of release. How many of our citizens might be injured or die from violent acts during those three years? It is unacceptable!
Other vital issues that relate to crime include the lack of cooperation from witnesses and victims, the pervasive existence of gangs, drugs, the dropout rate, and more. Also, it has become evident that the rise in violent crime in America parallels the rise of children abandoned by their fathers. High crime neighborhoods are almost always characterized by high concentrations of fatherless homes. How do we address that?
We don’t profess to have all the answers, so we need your perspectives.
If you are not able to attend but wish to communicate your views, email me at Jesse.Petrea@house.ga.gov.
We are willing to work to find solutions to this malignancy afflicting our community. Please make it a point to be with us on June 30. One thing I know with certainty, doing nothing will get us nowhere.