Probation, parole not to blame for Georgia crime wave, officials say

A woman was found shot to death in October near this McDonald’s parking lot in Atlanta.
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A woman was found shot to death in October near this McDonald’s parking lot in Atlanta.

The state’s top probation and parole officials defended their agencies’ work on Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Public Safety, as they pushed back against any notion that convicted felons under state supervision are driving the rise in violent crime across Georgia.

As the public’s attention turned to crime during the pandemic, Commissioner Michael Nail of the Georgia Department of Community Supervision has been fending off criticism that the state’s system of probation and parole monitoring is failing to protect the public.

He said communities across the country are searching for reasons for the rise in violent crime. Some who previously came before the committee, he said, have made “assumptions” and used “innuendo” about his agency, which supervises some 200,000 people on felony probation and about 20,000 who are on parole.

He came armed with data showing the percentage of felons under his agency’s supervision who are getting re-arrested for felonies in Georgia has been declining.

Roughly one in five of the felons under state supervision are re-arrested each year. But the overall number of felon supervisees arrested in fiscal year 2021 dropped to 61,152 — an 11% decrease from the previous year. That was nearly double the percentage decrease from overall felony arrests in Georgia.

“If... violent crime is going up, and our numbers are holding steady, that will indicate we’re not the primary driver of the increase in violent crime,” he told committee members.

In the city of Atlanta, Nail said, there also has been a significant decline in arrests of those under supervision. In 2018, Atlanta Police re-arrested nearly 3,000 supervisees for new felony offenses. In 2020, that figure was cut in half to 1,500, he said.

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Georgia Department of Community Supervision Commissioner Michael W. Nail

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Georgia Department of Community Supervision Commissioner Micheal W. Nail was installed as the President of the National Association of Probation Executives.
Caption
Georgia Department of Community Supervision Commissioner Michael W. Nail

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

“The data and the research that we’ve run shows that we are not the cause of the increase in violent crime,” Nail said. “That’s not to say that we are perfect. I will tell you we are not perfect.”

Chris Barnett, executive director the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, told the committee that anytime a parolee is re-arrested for a serious felony, the entire case is reviewed to identify any issues that can improve the parole consideration process.

He presented data that shows parolees accounted for 1% of the 8,215 serious violent felony arrests in Georgia for the 12-month period ending in August. Less than 1% of the 887 murders, rapes and robberies reported in Atlanta in 2021 involved parolees accused of the crimes, according to his figures.

“They were not the driving force of the rising crime,” he later told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Senate public safety committee and its House counterpart have been holding hearings in recent months exploring the rise in homicides and other violent crime in Atlanta and across Georgia.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, said lawmakers are looking for specific steps they can take to help stem the crime problem. While much of the focus has been on Atlanta, he said, the problems with crime are being felt across Georgia.

“We can and we must do better,” he said.

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