Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Panel Considers Prison Sentencing Guidelines

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Panel Considers Prison Sentencing Guidelines

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- A newly appointed commission looking at disparities in prison sentences yesterday heard that corrections officials can't plan for future capacity given the differences in the amount of jail time handed down by judges.

"We need to start playing off the same song sheet," said Robert E. Flournoy Jr., a Cobb Circuit superior court judge and chairman of the Commission for Certainty in Sentencing. "And we need to get away from baby-sitting crackheads."

The commission, made up of state judges, district attorneys, legislators and law enforcement representatives, held its second meeting since being created by Gov. Roy Barnes last month.

Barnes has asked the 30-member commission for a report by Dec. 10 on how to correct disparate sentences for similar crimes, a problem that has helped double the state's prison population over the last 10 years. At more than 41,000 and climbing, Georgia has the eighth-highest prison population in the country.

Flournoy compared convictions in his circuit to that in the Richmond circuit, which includes Augusta.

Reading from a corrections report that broke out each state judge's convictions and punishments for 1998, Flournoy said Cobb's eight judges gave 18.85 percent of convicted felons prison time, and those got an average sentence of 3.6 years.

He said Richmond's five judges sentenced 41.6 percent of convicted felons to prison, and those received an average sentence of 6.3 years.

"Now I don't believe the people in Richmond County are meaner, or commit worse crimes than here," Flournoy said, "but that perception is there."

Commission staff reported that even the slightest variance can mean the difference between one or 10 prisons that would be needed over the next 10 years.

Most of yesterday's discussion focused on setting guidelines for lesser crimes such as lesser drug offenses and theft by taking, where possible sentences can vary from one to 20 years. Those offenders make up 34. …

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