Atlanta Justice System Overloaded With Repeater Cases


Corey Lakes has been arrested three dozen times, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His list of offenses goes from the relatively benign – drug possession and theft – to the heinous – rape and kidnapping. Until now, Lakes spent little time in custody. Since July he has been in jail with no bond. Lakes, 31, is another example of a system that police, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys agree is in trouble. He is one of many offenders who are arrested time and again. “I don’t know if it’s getting worse or getting better, but we run into the same people over and over,” said Atlanta police Chief Richard Pennington. “[These criminals] learned how to manipulate the criminal justice system.”

Police say they make the cases and it’s up to prosecutors to punish the people they arrest. Prosecutors say they need evidence and they have to balance the astounding numbers of nonviolent cases – which most likely have addiction or mental illness at their core – against the lower numbers of violent crimes. Defense attorneys seek the least punishment for their clients and rarely have time to consider whether mental health services or drug or alcohol treatment would be better long term. Judges say they cannot make decisions based on what might happen but only on what has occurred. Says public defender Carl Greenberg: “We’re overloaded. The case load is crushing so you can’t spend the time that’s necessary [] on individual cases.” Says Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard: “A number of defendants are arrested repeatedly for small property crimes and drug-related offenses. Our system is faced with a dilemma and that dilemma is what to do with them. The question becomes how much prison space do you afford to someone arrested for theft by taking or whether or not you reserve that space for somebody who is a more violent offender?”


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