By State Rep. Jesse Petrea –
Earlier this year serial rapist and murderer Torrey Scott was sentenced to four consecutive life terms without parole. Our Savannah community is free of this predator once and for all.
However, there is value in understanding how he got to this point. Scott was free on parole from a previous 20-year sentence when he waged his campaign of evil on our community. Indeed, he had been released only 45 days before attacking and raping two Savannah State University students. He then raped and murdered Lisa Marie Pynn in her home. Finally, he kidnapped and raped a woman from the Candler Hospital parking lot.
This carnage was brought to our community by a man who was granted clemency and released early. The logical question asked by the victims, their families, law enforcement, district attorneys, judges, legislators, and the community at large is: Why? Under current law, we are not permitted to know why. Therein lies the problem that I aim to fix with the Parole Reform and Transparency Act.
According to the National Institute of Justice, over 70 percent of violent offenders will be rearrested. Parole is not a right but an act of clemency by the state. The current parole process lacks transparency. Almost everything is treated as a “state secret.” Meanwhile, far too many violent crimes continue to be committed by paroled felons. Accordingly, my bill would require the following reforms of the parole process.
The bill would:
* Make files for offenders released on parole subject to the open records act.
* Make the parole file of anyone sentenced for a “serious offence” available as an open record.
* Allow a sentencing court to impose conditions on parolees, as with probationers. Under current law, the trial court cannot impose any conditions on an offender released on parole.
* Place the supervision of offenders under the Department of Community Supervision rather than the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
* Require the Board to hold a public notice before releasing an offender early from prison. The victims, the offender, and the DA would have the opportunity to be heard.
* Require the Board to enter a written order denying or granting parole and stating the reasons for its decision as well as any evidence relied upon.
* Change the authority to revoke parole from the Board to the Superior Court that imposed the sentence.
* Make the parole files of all inmates subject to the open records act except for offenders on death row.
This legislation will provide every local community in Georgia with complete transparency of the parole process. It would provide more credibility and foster trust in the process by our citizens. Almost always, government decisions should be open to the public. This process needs sunlight. Furthermore, this bill shifts more influence to local communities and their elected DA’s and judges. Their voices should be heard.
Crime is clearly our greatest obstacle to success in Savannah today. I have made it my mission to do all I can to help on a state level by offering the Parole Reform and Transparency Act. It will be the priority bill for the District Attorney’s Association during the 2017 General Assembly. I encourage all citizens to offer their support.
The author is state Rep. Jesse, Petrea, R-Savannah.