Atlanta is now one of the greatest hot spots in the country. No, not for coronavirus, but for the epidemic of violent crime that is threatening the suburbs as well as the urban areas. With the crime situation in Atlanta now worse than in some cities in blue states, Gov. Brian Kemp has announced support for anti-crime legislation during the upcoming special session of the legislature this fall. Other red states need to follow suit before more people are murdered and harmed.
With the greatest surge in crime in over a generation, the key is for conservatives to harness this opportunity to finally lock up the criminals rather than allowing the session to be hijacked by distractions, feel-good proposals, simply throwing money at a policy problem, and downright weak policies promoted by the criminal leniency-industrial complex.
Atlanta is the new Chicago. Murders are up nearly 30% this year after the city already experienced the highest number of homicides in 2020 in over two decades. There is even a crisis of rampant shootings on interstate highways in the broader metro area (with nearly no arrests), as well as carjackings, which often involve criminals bumping into cars from behind so the victims can be carjacked when they get out of their cars to check for damage. There are shootings on metro trains and even in Lenox Mall in Buckhead, which is a high-class mall.
It’s imperative for conservatives to ensure that the legislative agenda is focused on removing all impediments to locking up violent criminals, not simply throwing more money at police or programs. The elephant in the room is that repeat violent offenders, particularly juveniles, are often barely punished for their crimes, resulting in more violent criminals on the streets than ever. Despite the record crime, Georgia’s prison population plummeted 16% from February 2020 to July 2021, after steadily declining in the preceding few years. Shockingly, after plummeting during COVID, the county jail population is still below pre-COVID levels, which is astounding given the record increase in new crimes.
Despite the rampant violent crime among juveniles, there were just 29 juveniles in Georgia prison convicted as adults, compared to around 100 just a few years ago. Given the number of violent juvenile gang members and carjackings, this number is appalling. There are 40 criminals on death row, half the number from just five years ago, despite the increased homicides.
According to the Atlanta Repeat Offender Commission, in 2017 and 2018, just 23 percent of repeat offenders arrested by Atlanta police were sentenced to any degree of confinement by Fulton County Superior Court judges — a decrease of nearly 14 percent from those sentenced in 2016. The most common sentence issued by a Fulton judge was “time served.” One can only imagine what those numbers look like now, with more “criminal justice reform” in place, not to mention the COVID jailbreak.
In other words, in order to restore the justice deterrent, Republicans will have to finally kick their fear of incarceration and push legislation that will lock up more criminals. Legislation they should pass during the session should include the following:
- An even stronger anti-gang bill than the one they foolishly rejected in 2020, which would make it easier to prosecute gang members across state lines, incentivize prosecutors’ offices to prioritize those cases, and slap on extra mandatory sentencing for crimes committed in furtherance of gang activity or as part of expectation of membership in the gang.
- Toughen juvenile sentencing for violent and repeat offenders, particularly those affiliated with gangs.
- Allow prosecutors, not judges, to decide whether to charge a juvenile defendant as an adult.
- Toughen sentencing on carjackings.
- Toughen sentences on those convicted of violent crimes who are then caught in felony possession of firearms, and certainly those who go on to commit crimes with firearms.
- Mandate that any violation of parole result in automatically serving out the rest of the sentence.
- Lower the threshold to hold people without bond or with higher bond for certain violent crimes, as well as repeat offenders.
- Fund prosecutors’ offices with special grant programs designed to enforce specific statutes against repeat offenders that will result in the longest prison times. After years of weak-on-crime policies, there is a massive backlog in cases of violent felons. There’s an even greater need to fund prosecutors than to fund the police.
- Build more prisons and courts. They should use some of the COVID funds to pay for this, because even Biden blessed the reprogramming to combat crime. Why not use it to lock up more criminals that he likes to coddle?
- Limit the discretion of judges to allow repeat felons to serve their maximum sentence on probation. Under Georgia’s recidivism statute, conviction of a second felony can result in automatically being sentenced to the maximum time. However, judges have wide latitude, as we’re seeing in Fulton County, to suspend or switch to probation the maximum sentence.
- Strengthen the “three strikes” law. Under current law, someone who is convicted of a fourth felony must not only serve the maximum term but is not eligible for parole. That needs to be tightened for certain crimes. If one of those convictions was for murder or rape, he should lose a chance for parole after the third conviction, and depending on the subsequent convictions, he should serve life.
The biggest fear of Republicans preventing them from getting tough on crime is the threat of being called racist. However, criminal justice deform and jailbreak are the ultimate racist policies. As of mid-May, 94% of all shooting victims in Atlanta this year were black. Nearly every homicide victim from last year was black. By not locking up the gangbangers, carjackers, and robbers, officials allow the most dangerous criminals to remain on the street. They terrorize all sorts of people, but black victims are the ones who pay the ultimate price for it.
Republicans will never have another opportunity like this when the stars align to do the right thing on public safety. Recently, Fulton County voted in a new DA, Fani Willis, who defeated the previous Soros prosecutor and is actually stronger on crime than many Republicans. Now is the time to do surgery on the criminal justice system, not just pay for some band-aids. It’s time for criminal justice reform to mean what Reagan envisioned it to mean – reforming the system to work for victims of crime, not just criminals.