Originally created 01/27/98

State senate proposes to abolish parole



ATLANTA -- After nearly three hours of contentious debate and with both parties claiming political victory, the Georgia Senate on Monday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to abolish parole.

If the House passes the measure too, voters will decide at the polls in November whether to tell the Legislature to officially kill parole as of July 1999.

"We are going to stop the bleeding. Our citizens demand we stop criminals from walking out early," said Senate President Pro Tem Sonny Perdue, D-Bonaire.

Though the resolution was authored by Mr. Perdue, Republicans spared nothing in claiming a win.

"We sent a strong Republican message out today ... a Republican bill passed today," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Clay, R-Marietta.

What victory Republicans won isn't entirely clear.

The Senate approved Mr. Perdue's measure 40-16 after a lengthy debate about what Republicans saw as a weaker proposal.

In Augusta, protesters who opposed the no-parole amendment stood in front of the municipal building Monday afternoon. They said while they don't condone crime, they are against abolition of parole.

"There is a disproportionate number of African-Americans in prisons in the state of Georgia," said Barbara Thurmond, president of Blacks Against Black Crime, a victim-advocacy group.

"We make up 30 percent of the state's population and 70 percent of the state's prison population. Until that changes, we will not support any amendments or bills that will keep people in prison longer," Ms. Thurmond said. "Those who commit crimes need to be accountable and responsible for their actions. But when young people are sentenced to 20 to 25 years for nonviolent offenses, that is a crime committed against their souls."

Members of both political parties say the resolution passed by the Senate would abolish parole for all crimes. The Democratic leadership had wanted to give lawmakers the chance to determine which crimes fit under the no-parole mandate next year.

The Senate version might be too strong for both parties and could be softened as the resolution makes its way through the House, said Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles last month approved forcing criminals guilty of some crimes, including burglary, to serve 90 percent of their sentence. That decision is expected to cost the state $2.4 billion during the next 10 years.

The state's "two-strikes" law already sets a penalty of life without parole for felons convicted a second time of crimes such as murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and rape.

But in a climate of voters expressing concern about their safety, legislators have been hunting for ways to get even tougher on crime.

Mr. Perdue's substitute proposal, which was defeated, would have delayed until next year a decision on what crimes fall under the parole ban. It was a caveat that proved unpalatable to Republicans, even though the date that parole would be abolished would remain the same.

"I think this is the biggest pile of junk to come before us by intelligent people since I came to the Senate," said state Sen. Mike Eagan, R-Atlanta.

Accompanying legislation by Mr. Walker, which also passed Monday, would establish a 23-member commission of crime experts and political appointees to revamp sentences.

Mr. Walker said it's important to rewrite the state's sentencing system in 1999 when there isn't an election.

"We won't have these political hucksters talking about how we are going to define crime," Mr. Walker said. "We want a criminal justice system that makes sense. We want a criminal system that is intellectually honest."

Though Republicans said they outwitted the Democrats by helping defeat the weaker resolution, Mr. Perdue said he was satisfied with the final result.

"I am comfortable and pleased with the original bill," he said.

The unity Democrats showed when announcing their 1998 legislative agenda quickly broke down during the voting, with 10 of the 16 negative votes coming from black Democrats. Some black legislators said killing parole would be unfair to black Georgians.

"What will it do to those in the African-American community who truly believe the only playing field is the one they get from parole?" asked state Sen. Donzella James, D-College Park. Staff Writer Tracie Powell contributed to this article.

BYLINE1:By Lawrence Viele

BYLINE2:Morris News Service

ATLANTA -- After nearly three hours of contentious debate and with both parties claiming political victory, the Georgia Senate on Monday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to abolish parole.

If the House passes the measure too, voters will decide at the polls in November whether to tell the Legislature to officially kill parole as of July 1999.

"We are going to stop the bleeding. Our citizens demand we stop criminals from walking out early," said Senate President Pro Tem Sonny Perdue, D-Bonaire.

Though the resolution was authored by Mr. Perdue, Republicans spared nothing in claiming a win.

"We sent a strong Republican message out today ... a Republican bill passed today," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Clay, R-Marietta.

What victory Republicans won isn't entirely clear.

The Senate approved Mr. Perdue's measure 40-16 after a lengthy debate about what Republicans saw as a weaker proposal.

In Augusta, protesters who opposed the no-parole amendment stood in front of the municipal building Monday afternoon. They said while they don't condone crime, they are against abolition of parole.

"There is a disproportionate number of African-Americans in prisons in the state of Georgia," said Barbara Thurmond, president of Blacks Against Black Crime, a victim-advocacy group.

"We make up 30 percent of the state's population and 70 percent of the state's prison population. Until that changes, we will not support any amendments or bills that will keep people in prison longer," Ms. Thurmond said. "Those who commit crimes need to be accountable and responsible for their actions. But when young people are sentenced to 20 to 25 years for nonviolent offenses, that is a crime committed against their souls."

Members of both political parties say the resolution passed by the Senate would abolish parole for all crimes. The Democratic leadership had wanted to give lawmakers the chance to determine which crimes fit under the no-parole mandate next year.

The Senate version might be too strong for both parties and could be softened as the resolution makes its way through the House, said Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles last month approved forcing criminals guilty of some crimes, including burglary, to serve 90 percent of their sentence. That decision is expected to cost the state $2.4 billion during the next 10 years.

The state's "two-strikes" law already sets a penalty of life without parole for felons convicted a second time of crimes such as murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and rape.

But in a climate of voters expressing concern about their safety, legislators have been hunting for ways to get even tougher on crime.

Mr. Perdue's substitute proposal, which was defeated, would have delayed until next year a decision on what crimes fall under the parole ban. It was a caveat that proved unpalatable to Republicans, even though the date that parole would be abolished would remain the same.

"I think this is the biggest pile of junk to come before us by intelligent people since I came to the Senate," said state Sen. Mike Eagan, R-Atlanta.

Accompanying legislation by Mr. Walker, which also passed Monday, would establish a 23-member commission of crime experts and political appointees to revamp sentences.

Mr. Walker said it's important to rewrite the state's sentencing system in 1999 when there isn't an election.

"We won't have these political hucksters talking about how we are going to define crime," Mr. Walker said. "We want a criminal justice system that makes sense. We want a criminal system that is intellectually honest."

Though Republicans said they outwitted the Democrats by helping defeat the weaker resolution, Mr. Perdue said he was satisfied with the final result.

"I am comfortable and pleased with the original bill," he said.

The unity Democrats showed when announcing their 1998 legislative agenda quickly broke down during the voting, with 10 of the 16 negative votes coming from black Democrats. Some black legislators said killing parole would be unfair to black Georgians.

"What will it do to those in the African-American community who truly believe the only playing field is the one they get from parole?" asked state Sen. Donzella James, D-College Park.

Staff Writer Tracie Powell contributed to this article.



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