Serial criminals on the loose

Atlanta has a problem with repeat offenders, and judging from a city report on recidivism, it’s abetted by the Fulton County court system.

As one community newspaper put it: “The statistics are jaw-dropping: 481 repeat felony offenders in Atlanta have been arrested more than 7,000 times, and 72 percent of those convicted were given probation or alternative sentencing. That means these criminals didn’t do any jail time or were released on time served. The majority of them are back on the street committing more crimes.”

Only 7 percent of those convicted of a felony received any additional jail or prison time.

“If we could hold those 481 (offenders), this city would be in a great place,” Atlanta Police Chief George Turner recently told the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods. “We might not be Mayberry, but it would make us safe.”

Things are so bad, the city is using crime prediction software to pinpoint where crime might happen next.

Excuse me, Chief Turner, but I can tell you where to start, without looking at your computer: the Wal-Mart parking lot at Howell Mill Road and I-75. Week after week, my neighborhood’s Crimewatch report is littered with the holdups, purse-snatchings and shoplifting there.

Statistics show the crime rate is down, but the jails are overcrowded and, for whatever other reasons, Fulton judges are turning loose the offenders that Turner talks about.

One page in the city’s PowerPoint presentation on repeat offenders is headlined: “Sentences have been especially lenient on those with prior criminal history.” Another page is topped with: “Challenges with sentencing in Fulton County Superior Court also limit the ability to prosecute known felons in Atlanta.”

Mayor Kasim Reed has created a commission to deal with the problem. Businesses, law enforcement and the judicial system reportedly are banding together to examine the problem this summer.

Feel safer yet?

As reported in the AJC, the mayor has been making the recidivism problem a key component of his public speeches for months. During his inaugural address in January, he called for county partners to convene on the issue. “Crime is at nearly 40-year lows,” he said. “What do you think will happen if those 481 individuals who make up such a large percent of the individuals who cause the most challenges in our environment, actually receive the sentences that they deserve?”

Better yet, what would happen if some of those 481 were prevented from committing crimes in the first place?

Some more statistics, according to the city’s report:

— 7,000-plus total arrests by a pool of 481 perpetrators.

— 75 percent of these perpetrators were already on probation.

— Of the 19 perpetrators who were convicted and given probation through first-offender status, 17 had multiple arrests, with an average of 10 prior arrests.

— One 22-year-old male was arrested for seven felonies from 2008 through 2013. In June 2013, he was arrested and charged with murder “after being released by Fulton County at the end of March.”

— A 20-year-old male had five arrests from 2011 through 2013, including 10 felony counts. His alleged violations included burglary, possession of a firearm, sexual battery and drug possession with intent to distribute. He also had multiple parole violations. He was allowed to keep first-offender status through all five arrest cycles; for his last arrest, he received 90 days’ probation.

Fair or not, the picture painted here is that Atlanta and Fulton County have created a welcome environment for hoodlums. Whether the mayor’s commission will find an answer remains to be seen. In the meantime, city officials shouldn’t wonder why some law-abiding citizens have pushed for easier access to guns to protect themselves.

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