Has "Two Strikes" law outlived it's usefulness? - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Has "Two Strikes" law outlived it's usefulness?

January 4, 2005

Albany-- It's been a decade since Georgia enacted a measure which requires pre-determined sentencing for any one convicted of committing one of the seven deadly sins.

Georgia's 'deadly sins' are: murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated battery.

Critics say the laws are causing the jails to become overcrowded, and forcing the state to spend too much money on medical care for the increasingly older prison population.

Dougherty County Superior Court judge Loring Gray minces no words about the state's two strikes law. "Every case and every defendant has to stand on their own merits, and if we're not allowed to exercise the kind of judicial discretion that the people have elected us to do, then that's an impairment of our judicial freedom," he says.

Georgia imposed one of the toughest criminal penalty laws a decade ago. It requires a minimum ten-year sentence for those who are convicted of any serious violent crime, and carries a life sentence without parole for the second offense.

"It's going to keep 17-year-old boys in prison for the rest of their life for committing two violent felonies. Now I'd rather have personally, the discretion to look that 17-year-old boy in the eye and see what kind of individual he is," Gray says.

Judge Gray says the problem starts with legislators who pass laws that are in line with their own political agendas. "They're constantly running for election, they go up there and pass what I call Rotary Club bills, and that's bills that allow then to come back and speak the Rotary Club and say 'I'm the toughest son-of-a-gun on crime you've ever seen. Look at the bill I passed.'"

Instead of putting emphasis on fixed sentences, Gray is hoping lawmakers will focus their attention on alternatives like diversion and detention centers. "And if the state would provide those and give us more alternatives, then we wouldn't have to fill up the hard beds in the prisons. Those are the expensive ones."

But until lawmakers agree to make changes, Gray and other judges will continue to impose sentences they may not necessarily agree with. Governor Sonny Perdue says he wants to give the state correction commissioner to time to see if a transition program for two-strikers will work.

posted at 4:25PM by dave.miller@walb.com

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