ATLANTA - In a hearing Wednesday, law enforcement leaders pitched lawmakers the idea of mandatory sentencing for some violent crimes in Georgia.
"If an offender uses a firearm or a knife in the commission of a crime, there should be some type of mandatory minimum sentence, one that cannot be reduced by probation or parole," said Butch Ayers, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.
His comments came during the Senate Public Safety Committee's first meeting on the issue of crime trends in the city of Atlanta. Members of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee have also held meetings about the problem.
Ayers said mandatory sentences would help cut down on the problem of repeat offenders.
"Police chiefs across this state are frustrated with what we call repeated offenders--people that either both pre-trial or post-conviction return to the streets continue their criminal behavior with little or no fear of the criminal justice system," Ayers explained. "We are finding that many offenders, once they are arrested and processed, that they are either out on bond, they're out on parole and have had multiple previous interactions with law enforcement."
He specifically asked senators to consider mandatory minimums for drive-by shootings. Currently, the punishment varies depending on whether the shooter hits a person or property and can be as little as one year in jail.
"We must have some certainty in sentencing," said Terry Norris with the Georgia Sheriff's Association. "We're all in favor of helping people. We're all in favor of giving people a second chance, but not a third, fourth and fifth. Particularly when those people are injuring and harming and victimizing other people."
Norris suggested a mandatory sentence of five years for convicted felons who are found in the possession of a firearm.
"People are not going to plea to an offense where there's a certain sentence, a mandatory sentence. But if we could change some of these laws to get a mandatory sentence, even if we can't prosecute many cases where there is a mandatory sentence, I think it would help us," Norris explained.
State Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain, raised concerns about mandatory sentencing.
"I am gravely concerned that we are going to return to an era in which we were mandatory sentencing so many people that created a huge problem around mass incarceration. I understand we have a crime problem, but to return to solutions that we know are broken is not the solution," Sen. Jackson said.
The committee plans to hold more hearings on the issue during the upcoming special session.