With a hat tip to Chris, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Fulton Inmates to be Released Before Trial,” by Steve Visser.  It’s worth quoting extensively, to grasp precisely what is being done:

Fulton County court officials say they can save taxpayers $5.5 million a year by releasing suspected criminals from jail — inmates whom judges have balked at freeing because of the likelihood they would commit another crime before their trials.

How did they arrive at 5.5 million in savings?  Is it simply the difference between incarceration and probation for X prisoners for Y months?  What about the cost of anticipated new crimes — police, homeowner’s insurance, losses, new court dates, new attorney’s fees?  Pain and suffering?  Loss of public safety?

People won’t have to worry, said Superior Court Administrator Judy Cramer, because officials are starting a program Wednesday that ensures the bad boys will be watched a whole lot closer.

The county has hired five more staffers to closely supervise inmates who previously didn’t qualify for pre-trial release because of their character, lack of permanent address or who had weak community ties.

We know what some of the inmates who already qualify for release are capable of: what on earth are these people capable of?

The monitors will each carry a caseload of 35 released inmates they will meet with each week until the cases are resolved at trial, said court spokesman Don Plummer. The monitors will also meet regularly with family, employers or friends of the people they are supervising, Plummer said.

Five times 35 is 175.  Is that 175 armed robbers?  Aggravated assailants?  Since they have a set number already, then tell us the types of crimes this cohort is accused of committing. 

Plummer said the monitors would be able to meet the tough schedule of an average of seven meetings a day — along with other home and employment visits. “This isn’t going to be a featherbed job,” he said. “They are going to keep these people on a really tight leash.”

Imagine going to seven different appointments in one work-day.  Every day.  In Atlanta traffic.  Now imagine that half, or more, of your appointments are with people who do not have a permanent address and are prone to not show up for things because, well, they’re repeat offenders, and most of them have probably given a probation officer the slip before. 

Chief Jailer Riley Taylor doubted if a new supervised-release program would do much to take pressure off the jail — which is normally filled to its court-ordered capacity of 2,250 inmates — or off taxpayers’ wallets.

Thank you, Chief Taylor.  Thank you for talking to the public.  That’s what a public servant is supposed to do.  We could use some more of that.

“They want to fund the court system more to refine it more and they’ve tried that in the past and the math hasn’t worked out,” said Taylor. “Historically the jail population catches back up after new initiatives come into play.

“The whole system has to be retooled.”

So, basically, what the Chief Jailer is saying is that this won’t save $5.5 million dollars because the jail will just fill up again, which means that decisions are already being made to not incarcerate a certain percentage of law-breakers, or to release a certain percentage of law-breakers prior to trial, because the prison is already full.  And it’s not as if they’re going to start releasing high-risk prisoners without having released every possible allegedly low-risk prisoner first: what kind of sense would that make?  No, they’ve already released all the people who can cobble together a home address, or who haven’t committed a serious, violent crime yet — and they’re still beyond capacity, so they have to start releasing the people they know will commit more crimes, and have committed serious crimes.  And, yet, it “hasn’t worked before” (which means they have tried this before — at what human cost?).

The county has to find a way to resolve cases more quickly so that either jail inmates are freed or they are shipped to the prison system, Taylor said. More than 1,200 inmates — half the permitted population of 2,250 — have been in jail for more than a year without their cases coming to trial, according to county figures.

What has caused this backlog?

[Superior Court Administrator] Cramer acknowledged the “Intensive Supervision Program” won’t save any money if the jail beds remain full. He said it is among a several court-system initiatives designed to chip away at the county’s backlog of 6,000 unresolved, indicted cases.

The court system has just been funded to pay three retired judges to help clear up the backlog of murder, rape and robbery cases which now pack the jail, Cramer said. There is currently just one judge handling that workload.

Wow.  There is one judge handling murder, rape and robbery.  That’s crazy, especially in a county that has managed to waste million of dollars on corrupt boondoggles like FanPlex.  Oh, and this won’t work, but they’re doing it anyway.

The superior court has also dedicated one superior court judge to handle property crimes such as burglary and car theft, Cramer said, and is resolving most of those cases by pleas — often to probation — in less than two months, on average.

Break into somebody’s house, get probation.  Get out, break into somebody else’s house.  Pretty sweet.

The court system’s next aim is to get Superior Court judges — there are 19 in all — to develop uniform case-management standards for handling serious crimes that bog down in the court system, Cramer said.

Judges traditionally have run their courtrooms as they wished — with varying degrees of efficiency.

“Serious crimes” are “bogging down in the court system.”  That’s terrifying.  Since even breaking into someone’s home has been dumbed-down to a minor offense, what constitutes a serious crime these days? 

Enough is enough.  Fulton County Superior Court Judges need to come clean, now, about their efficiency rates.  Are they even working nine-to-five?  All of them?  If they are, and if they oppose this plan, the public needs to hear from them.  If there is a resource emergency in the courts (and there is), then why the silence from the judiciary?  Have they asked the legislature for money?  Have they appealed to the County Commission?  Do they have plans to request stimulus money instead of releasing felons to prey on the innocent?  Have they reached out to the public?  Why doesn’t the public know?  This is a situation begging for transparency.

In order to solve this problem, an essential mindset needs to change.  For far too long the courts have been an insular world, a closed loop in which scrutiny by the public is viewed with barely-concealed irritation, if not outright contempt.  ‘If you’re not a lawyer, then what the heck are you doing asking questions,’ is the attitude I’ve sometimes (not always) encountered — and all lawyers must maintain good relations with judges, so don’t expect them to complain if they see a judge not keeping up with his or her docket, or just not working at all, or serially letting violent felons go free.  

In a circuit like Fulton County, some of these judges also practice far too much leniency with criminals, worrying exclusively about their needs, ignoring victims of crime.  It’s a predictable outcome of the culture of insularity and politics that exists in the judicial appointment process.  Victim advocates — and community members seeking accountability — are treated like peasants who must beg favors at the door.  Information is contained with Kremlin-like security.  

Atlanta has outgrown this system.  

It’s time for the Fulton County Courts to open their doors to citizen scrutiny in a meaningful way.  Of course, it would have been useful for some of the many law professors and criminologists in the city to take a lead on this, but in my experience, academicians are interested in only one question regarding the criminal justice system: how do we get prisoners out of jail?

So I wouldn’t count on the professorate to do the footwork needed to find out exactly how broken the courts are in Fulton County.  But citizens can do the job, first by opposing this mass release of dangerous prisoners, then by seeing what is really going on in the courts.

*** 

Call your county commissioner and the two “at-large” commissioners and demand a citizen review panel.  By non-lawyers, for obvious reasons.  And while you’re on the phone, tell your commissioner that you oppose the pre-trial release plan that’s been sprung on the public, fait accompli.  Think of all the people who have been killed recently in Atlanta by people who should have been behind bars at the time: Harish Roy.  Eugenia Calle.  Who else?  John Henderson?  Octavia Atkins?  Brutus Jones?  Chastity Jones?  The AJC cannot report on every murder, so surely there are more.  Here are the contact numbers for the Fulton County Commissioners:

At-Large Commissioners:

John H. Eaves, Ph.D. District 1 (At Large) Chairman Email John Eaves 404-730-8206 Chairman Eaves’ extended website 

Robb Pitts District 2 (At Large) Email Robb Pitts 404-612-8210

District Commissioners:

Lynne Riley  District 3 Email Lynne Riley 404-730-8213

Tom Lowe  District 4 Email Tom Lowe 404-612-8218

Emma I. Darnell  District 5 THE MIGHTY FIVE [sic] E-mail Emma  404-612-8222

Nancy A. Boxill  District 6 Email Nancy Boxill  404-612-8226

William “Bill” Edwards  District 7  Commission Vice Chairman Email William Edwards  404-612-8230

Don’t Know Your District?  Check the Commissioners’ websites. 

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