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Repeat Offenders going through prison system at an early age

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News 12 First at Five / Friday, March 4, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. --"Every time someone spends a night in the local county jail, that cost the taxpayers a certain amount of money. And we're seeing the same people over and over and over," says Assistant District Attorney Adam King. And repeat-offenders aren't just costing you money. They could be costing your community safety as their crimes get more and more serious.

Carlos Doughtry was arrested for trying to pull a gun on a deputy earlier this week and now faces charges. It is not the first time. He's faced felony drug and weapons charges before but never spent any time in jail for those offenses. It's a pattern we've seen more and more recently- young people with serious charges getting off on probation, only to commit violent crimes later down the road. And some leaders worry, it's a problem that may not be solved any time soon.

Carlos Doughtry first faced felony charges for marijuana and cocaine less than two years ago, and he had a felony firearm conviction last May. But he's never served time in jail for those offenses. Now he's facing felony charges again for trying to pull a gun on an officer.

Patterns like this of repeat offenses are frustrating for Assistant District Attorney Adam King. "Historically that's how it happened. It started out with your more minor offenses. Maybe breaking into a vehicle, drug offenses, then it graduates to something more serious like a burglary or a home invasion. And then weapons get involved."

"With prisons being overcrowded and prisons even closing down in the state," King says, "There becomes less and less room for what people would term your less-serious offenses. Such that there's a premium on space for the most violent offenders." The result, he explains, is that criminals in prison for lesser crimes like theft and drugs are often let out early.

The problem is that some of the criminals labeled as "less violent" are back in the system within only a few years for violent crimes. Rodney Rontez Williams, for example, was arrested multiple times for drugs and burglary before sentenced to two years confinement, only to be let out early. He was arrested again less than two years later for Armed Robbery. And all this before he's even 22 years old.

Unfortunately, Adam has noticed that the gradual progression to violent crime is becoming less...gradual. "We're seeing more people who's first offense is a Robbery or an Armed Robbery. And that's probably most concerning of all."

King says many young people he sees in court just don't understand what it means to face decades in prison. "My message to kids is to be careful. This is not child's play. When a gun becomes involved, if that thing goes off and it's an accident and kills somebody, you're probably gonna get charged with Murder. " And in Georgia, a Murder conviction translates to life in prison.

So the question remains: How serious of a crime do you have to commit to be put behind bars for good? King says other than Murder, violent crimes that carry a mandatory sentence are Armed Robbery (10 years), Sexual crimes such as Aggravated Rape and Aggravated Child Molestation (20 years), and trafficking cocaine or methamphetamine (10-25 years or life).