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Budget cuts hurt police, help criminals, DA says

Crime statistics suggest that illegal drug use is on the decline.

"Don't believe it," District Attorney Dennis Sanders says.

State budget cuts are in effect legalizing illegal drugs in Georgia, Sanders said at a seminar on crime and drugs last week, adding that 90 percent of criminal cases involve drugs or alcohol.

"We've got to cut; we've got to cut," Sanders said state agencies are being told.

That means furloughs for law enforcement officers and prosecutors and prison closings, which in turn lead to fewer arrests and fewer offenders jailed for drug offenses.

"It doesn't make sense," Sanders said. "In effect we have legalized drugs in Georgia."

The Toombs Judicial Circuit DA, whose office covers six counties, including McDuffie, spoke at the daylong seminar May 19 at Augusta Technical College's Thomson campus. Titled A Partnership Targeting Crime and Drugs, it included government officials, educators, lawyers and law enforcement personnel.

Sanders said legislators are telling prosecutors and law enforcement that "we don't have the money." But he said the state has had the money to establish a campus of the Medical College of Georgia in Athens, give raises to Gov. Sonny Perdue's staff near the end of his term in office and a pay raise to a University of Georgia assistant football coach who was already making $90,000 a year.

At the same time, he said, there is no money for the Georgia State Patrol to operate cars at night; crime labs are being closed; training budgets are being slashed; and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is laying off personnel.

Taxpayers are applauding the cuts, he said, but eventually they will regret them.

"The public is going to be paying for it."

Another speaker at the seminar, Leon Fields, a work force coordinator for the East Georgia Consortium, said jobs are the key to reducing recidivism.

"When they start working, they stop offending," he said.

Fields said that unemployment among released offenders ranges from 25 percent to 40 percent and that those who are unemployed are more likely to return to prison.

In an afternoon address, U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver said the federal prison system has abandoned the notion that imprisonment leads to rehabilitation.

More recently, however, the federal justice system has experimented with a re-entry program in which judges and prosecutors attempt to motivate and encourage released offenders.

"That does create a conflict for the prosecutor," Tarver said, noting that his office's primary tool in the prevention of crime is the prosecution and incarceration of offenders.

Web posted on Thursday, May 26, 2011

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