Leaders, community meet to discuss Savannah crime, paroles - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Leaders, community meet to discuss Savannah crime, paroles

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

Local leaders and state lawmakers are taking on an issue many say is contributing to Savannah's crime problem: repeat offenders.

They're calling for more transparency from the State Pardons and Paroles Board, and they're asking for your input.

Savannah Alderman Julian Miller and State Representative Jesse Petrea called a town hall meeting Thursday night to get that feedback.

It was a room full of opinions about how to address the root of Savannah's crime problem, and a big concern is those repeat offenders.

This year, about 6,800 people have been booked into the Chatham County jail. Of those, 157 were on parole. In the last year, 24 paroled felons were rearrested for violent offenses in the county.

"These are the most violent offenders – the murderers, the rapists, the armed robbers. We're working to put them in, and then we have to fight to keep them in. Using the word 'frustrating' is about the best word I could use," District Attorney Meg Heap said.

Heap said change needs to happen at the state level. In Georgia, there are no parole board hearings allowing for the public to become involved. Plus, the evidence used by the board is not available to the public, unless it is declassified.

"We want to make sure that there's more transparency in the parole process,” said Rep. Jesse Petrea, who represents District 166 in the Georgia House of Representatives. “It's a pretty secretive process. We want to understand why violent felons are being released back into the community. Why?"

There has been some agreement, though. As of this week, the parole board has agreed to provide six months advance notice to district attorneys when serious offenders are being considered for parole, something local and state leaders have been requesting.

"That's an example of a gain we've already made. Now we have to see what we can do going forward," Rep. Petrea said.

City leaders were quick to say that they're not at war with the parole board but with crime itself.

A number of people at Thursday night’s meeting said we need more preventative action like programs to keep youth off the streets. Others pointed to the lack of employment and housing options available for those criminals when they do get out.

"If we pump some money into preventing the crime in the beginning, then the state wouldn't have to pay so much money to house them as a prisoner," one resident said.

When WTOC reached out to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles for comment Thursday, they released the following statement:

Savannah does have a crime problem; however parole is not the problem. Less than 2.5% of all Chatham County arrests since January 1st were offenders on parole. Parole arrests for a felony offense in Chatham County are 6 tenths of one (1) percent.

The Parole Board continues working with local officials toward consensus regarding public safety in Chatham County. The Board already has implemented an additional parole consideration notification for those offenders serving for the most serious felony offenses as agreed upon by district attorneys across the state. This process notifies district attorneys six (6) months prior to the Board consideration of parole and seeks input on the case.

The Board provides for input from stakeholders to include district attorneys, judges and the public including crime victims at several stages in the parole process. All information is provided to the board members for their review when making executive clemency decisions. 

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