ATLANTA – Prosecutors, judges and law enforcement will get an earlier opportunity to object to the release of violent criminals under an agreement announced Tuesday.

Officials in Savannah have pointed to several prominent cases of criminals who committed new crimes after their release as reason for seeking greater input in parole decisions. At their urging, Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, introduced House Bill 724 last month to require earlier notice than the three days in current law.

Petrea said he is letting his bill die because the new agreement satisfies his concerns with a 60-day comment period six months before the Board of Pardons and Paroles considers early release for a violent criminal or someone convicted of a sex crime or dealing drugs.

“They have come through,” he said of the board. “They have given us six months’ notice, more than I was asking for.”

Board Chairman Terry Bernard initially opposed Petrea’s bill, saying it would cost millions of dollars to implement by delaying the release of 1,100 inmates per month. But Bernard agreed to meet with Savannah District Attorney Meg Heap and Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. Those meetings led to the agreement.

“The 60 day notice should give my office time to find victims and their families; research and review case files; and write thoughtful responses to the board — hopefully reducing the number of violent parolees who are released, especially violent defendants who continue to have discipline issues while serving their sentences,” Heap said.

One complaint she had about the current three-day notice is that it was too quick to dig out the files of old cases that are stored across town.

Petrea said he was pleased that the final solution didn’t require legislation, and “this doesn’t add a dime” to state spending.

Spahos credits the freshman lawmaker for pushing the issue to trigger discussions that led to the board and prosecutors coming to terms.

“His bill brought all this to a head,” Spahos said.

The parole board expects it will take about 90 days to make the computer changes to get the first notices out. Plus, it must also formally vote to change its policy regarding notices.

The added input will be useful about specific inmates before they come up for review.

“The board welcomes this collaborative effort aimed at enhancing the parole process,” said Christopher Barnett, executive director of the parole board. “Active participation by stakeholders provides the board with the resources necessary for the best possible parole decisions.”

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