ATLANTA (CBS46) -- Georgia lawmakers on the Senate Public Safety Committee launched their series of legislative hearings focused on “reversing crime in Atlanta,” Wednesday morning.
Inside the State Capitol, the director of the GBI, the Fulton County Sheriff, the Forsyth County Sheriff, the Fulton Solicitor General and other leaders in law enforcement spoke before the committee about legislative changes that need to be made to improve the criminal justice systems in Atlanta.
Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat told the group that case backlogs are impacting the overcrowded jail.
“As of midnight last night, we have 1,683 warrants that still need to be executed that means that there are 1,683 persons accused of a crime, most of them violent,” Labat said adding that staffing is still a problem and that compensation will also have to improve.
“The days of asking someone to put their lives on the line for $50,000 and $60,000 is absolutely long gone,” Labat said. “I lose upwards of 5 to 10 individuals a week, whether it be to retirement or because they are going to the school police departments to get in on their pension programs.”
Inside the Fulton County Jail, overcrowding and understaffing are top issues.
CBS46 was granted a tour of the jail Wednesday afternoon where dozens of inmates have to sleep on small mats on the floors, called boats, because there is not enough bed space.
Lt. Colonel Adam Lee tells CBS46 that some of the inmates have been in the jail for five years, many facing murder charges, awaiting trial because of case backlogs.
"It's a tough job having to deal with an overcrowded jail and also being short-staffed at the same time; so you have more inmates and less staff members which creates a burden," Lee told CBS46.
Fulton County Solicitor General Keith Gammage says the criminal justice systems and courts need to work more efficiently, continuing cases keeps them unresolved.
“Those delays lead to us sometimes receiving cases particularly DUI and Domestic Violence a year and a half after the incident,” Gammage told the committee.
Gammage says his office currently has 10,000 domestic violence cases and 7,000 DUI cases that they are working around the clock to address.
In the hearing Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman said he is a tough on crime law enforcement officer, and encouraged judges to be tougher on violent criminals. Freeman said the crime issue impacts all counties that surround Atlanta.
Freeman and other Republican senators suggested passing laws to instate mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes, a practice that has been controversial and divisive.
“Mandatory minimums are absolutely the right thing to do for violent offenders,” said Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, who chairs the committee. “As so many people mentioned, we’re okay with second chances, but not third, fourth, fifth or 20. This is an actionable step that we can do.”
Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain disagrees with the tougher on crime approach and stated that lawmakers should focus more on taking guns off the streets.
“I want to avoid us returning to an era where we are incarcerating tons and tons of people,” Jackson told CBS46. “We’ve been in that place before. We know what these tough on crimes do. It results in over-incarceration. It results in destroying families,” Jackson explained.
Albers says the committee will be working on viable solutions to address funding and staffing needs in law enforcement and courts.
“We’re going to some very good concrete things come out of this and you’ll see some action,” Albers said. “In reference to the budget, we have to as a state commit to that.”
The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for the week lawmakers return for redistricting hearings in the first or second week in November.
Atlanta Police Rodney Bryant is slated to speak to the committee at the next meeting.