Parole system helps inmates, protects public

CONYERS -- Sometimes maligned by the public, the state's parole system serves many purposes -- reducing costs, rewarding good behavior, helping move offenders back into society and protecting the public.

There are 396 former inmates released on parole in Rockdale County, locally supervised by seven parole officers at the Conyers Parole Office on Commerce Drive. Parolees are allowed to freely live, work and play as other residents, as long as they abide by certain standards for state oversight, according to the Georgia Pardons and Parole Web site.

Inmates on parole and probation require less tax dollars than those incarcerated, Rockdale County Superior Court Judge David Irwin said.

"It has its positives and negatives, as with anything dealing with the judicial system," Irwin said of parole. "But it is one way to relieve some of the pressure from the prisons."

Irwin said parole is an opportunity available in Georgia, approved by legislation, that methodologically alleviates overcrowding and rewards inmates for performing well and abiding by the rules.

Irwin said he finds the public often hears only about parolees in a negative light, which may cause many to disagree with the early release of inmates.

"There's a reasoning in all of this and, in the great scheme of things, it works," Irwin said of parole.

Besides abiding by laws, regularly reporting to parole officers and other requirements, parolees are not permitted to own or use a gun or deadly weapon. Those who violate the conditions of their parole can be arrested and have their parole revoked, according to the Georgia Pardons and Parole Web site.

"Protection of the public and the successful reintegration of the offender back into the community are the hallmarks of parole supervision," the Web site said.

Parolees typically pay a $30 monthly supervision or victim compensation fee.

Once sentenced to serve in state prison, Rockdale County inmates with felony charges are usually sent to the Jackson State Prison, said Assistant District Attorney Paul Stalcup, and the Georgia Department of Corrections takes jurisdiction over the inmates.

The state Pardons and Paroles Board makes the decision whether to release an inmate from confinement.

Inmates are typically evaluated after serving at least one-third of their prison sentence.

"Anyone who is available for parole is considered," said PAP communications director Scheree Moore.

The board meets daily to weigh in on cases, according to Moore, when deciding who to grant parole.

"And it's based on a number of factors," Moore said. "They can choose to deviate and, most of the time, the board does choose to deviate."

The five-member board follows a Parole Decision Guidelines grid to decide when inmates will be eligible. The grid offers a time-served range when parole will be evaluated, based on the crime's category and severity. Moore said the board will likely choose the higher of the grid recommendation chart, as the board has the option to accept or reject the recommendation based on each individual case.

Those not eligible for parole in Georgia include those convicted of serious violent felonies, the state's "seven deadly sins," which are murder, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, armed robbery and kidnapping.

Those not eligible for parole also include inmates with a non-life sentence for a serious violent felony, those with their fourth felony and those with a life sentence without parole.