March 26, 2013

Guest column: Putting the public and children at risk

— I am writing to let the community know that the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles appears to have changed its policy concerning the early release of child molesters. We have previously seen the accelerated release of nonviolent offenders such as those charged with drug, theft and property crimes, but we are now witnessing the early release of prisoners who have been convicted of sexually molesting young children. There is currently no truth in sentencing in Georgia unless an offender is sentenced under a mandatory minimum which makes him ineligible for parole. Listed below are three examples of the board’s recent decisions.

On July 29, 2006, Robert Lamar Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of child molestation. Superior Court Judge William Boyett sentenced him to serve 17 years in prison followed by 23 years on probation. Family and friends have written to the board and attended the State Board’s Victim Visitation Day in Dalton. This is an opportunity to meet and speak with members of the State Board and provide oral information to them regarding the crime and the effect it has had on the child and to request that the inmate serve his full and/or 90 percent of his sentence. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles released him back into the community on March 12, 2013, after requiring him to serve less than seven years (41 percent of the 17 years ordered by the court).

On Feb. 22, 2011, Gary Allen Grayson pleaded guilty to one count of child molestation. Superior Court Judge Cindy Morris sentenced him to serve eight years in prison followed by 12 years on probation. In August of 2012, District Attorney Bert Poston wrote a letter to the board detailing the circumstances of the case and requesting that the defendant not be released early. The board scheduled his release back into the community on March 19, 2013, after he had served only two years and three weeks (25 percent) of his eight-year prison sentence.

On Sept. 27, 2011, Freddie Morales pleaded guilty to one count of criminal attempt to commit child molestation and two counts of sexual battery against a minor. Judge Boyett sentenced him to serve five years in prison followed by 10 years on probation. The board has scheduled his release back into the community on March 29, 2013, after requiring him to serve only one year and six months (30 percent) of his five-year prison sentence. We plan to write to protest the early release of this inmate and hope our voice will be heard.

The above cases were all negotiated pleas agreed to by both the prosecutor and defense attorney and accepted by the Superior Court judge. While all are charges eligible for parole, it was the understanding of all parties that child molestation was considered to be a violent offense, listed as a Crime Severity Level 8 of 8 under the board’s guidelines which are posted on its public website. In terms of early parole, Level 8 offenses require service of between 65 percent and 90 percent of the court-imposed sentence depending on a parole success score as calculated by the board. In each of the above described guilty pleas, it was the expectation of all parties, including of the victims’ families, that the offenders would serve at the very least 65 percent of their sentenced time before consideration and could receive as much as 90 percent before release on parole. In the three cases listed above, the serve time ranged from 25 percent to 41 percent which is clearly a drastic departure from the board’s prior policy.

Additionally, Georgia law only requires the board to notify the victims’ families and the district attorney within 72 hours of release. This law does not provide adequate time for either the district attorney, law enforcement or the victims to respond and protest the board’s release decision, and it often appears that the board uses this rule to avoid receiving any negative input until after the release has been finalized.

I spoke with a representative from the State Board of Pardons and Paroles and asked him when child molestation became a nonviolent crime. This person would not acknowledge any official change in policy, but simply stated that the board has the authority to parole at any point unless the prisoner is serving a mandatory minimum sentence that is not parole-eligible. I do not believe that our local leadership, our state representatives or senators, or even the governor is fully aware that the board is violating its own published policies by making these early releases of child molesters, and I hope that our elected representatives will investigate this apparently unpublished and unacknowledged change in policy. These early releases will put the public, and our children, at risk and they dishonor the courage and sacrifice that these young victims make to come forward and report their abuse in the first place.

A recent article in The Daily Citizen (March 20, page 4A) is headlined, “Georgia set to honor crime victims in April.” Crime victims have been ignored and their voice has been muted by our state government. The Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Act focuses on release and services for offenders. State Parole and Probation offices are understaffed and overworked and are struggling to supervise the increased number of early releases back into the community. As the state releases offenders early to cut prison costs, local communities bear the cost instead. It makes one wonder, what’s the thinking under the Gold Dome?

Brenda G. Hoffmeyer

Victim Services director

Victim/Witness Assistance Program

District Attorney’s office