Are Criminals Getting Enough Jail Time for their Crimes? - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Are Criminals Getting Enough Jail Time for their Crimes?

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EFFINGHAM COUNTY, GA -

Methingham.

Its a derogatory nickname that Effingham County has been given, and in many folks minds, deserves.

Slowly but surely sheriff's are doing their part to stop the spread of this dangerous drug.

But even if they are taken off the streets are they ending up in jail?

Its a decision based on evidence, prosecutors, laws, and money.

Driving down the road, Detective Steve Blunt easily points out the hot spots in Effingham County.

"That house right there we got three separate meth labs from 3 separate tenants," said Detective Steve Blunt of the Effingham County Sheriff's Drug Task Force.

News 3 first talked to Blunt three years ago. When he was first pulling pseudophedrine logs and making cases against big meth cooks. And we found out now, that work is making a difference.

"We have attempted to have them bring narcotics from other surrounding counties," explained Blunt. "We have recordings where they actually agree to stop at the county line in Chatham or Bryan or Screven or Bulloch, but they wont come into the county."

So now criminals have changed the game.

One pots. A smaller "lab" in a 2 liter soda bottle. An easier way to make the drug means more cooks on the street - and more cases for Blount to make.

"As opposed to building a long term case where you are documenting months and months of purchases, now you want for someone to buy and you go to their house the next day," said the Investigator.

Budget Cuts have sliced the drug unit from 5 to 3 detectives, but not changed the workload. Repeat offenders, at a 70 or 80% rate according to Sheriff's, back on drugs and on the street.

"What does it feel like when you see the same guys back on the street?" I wondered.

"Especially when they smirk or laugh. Its frustrating," said Blunt.

And those guys and gals seem to be getting the last laugh more than ever.

Charles Morgan, 5 years probation for possession of pseudophedrine. Korina Morgan, 5 years probation. Victoria Wise, 10 years probation for possession. Randall Waters attempt to manufacture meth, 5 years probation.

While some criminals are getting jail time, we dug through Effingham County court documents and found that close to 50% of all meth cases in the last year ended in probation instead of jail time.

"We put our lives in danger dealing with these folks, dealing with these chemicals," said an adamant Blunt. "And they aren't even getting any time, learning their lesson. Unfortunately the state of Georgia can't house everybody and I have a feeling that's a trend, and its only going to get worse over time."

Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie says his department is being pro-active when it comes to meth, but not seeing the results he'd like after the arrest.

"People know they are guilty, they are going to hold on for the best deal they can get, and when they do get that deal, they are going to go for it," explained Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie. "Which in some cases means no jail time and probation. They are turning right around and back on the street."

Back on the street and back making meth.

"I just had the drug unit the other day say Sheriff this is the 5th time we've bailed this guy out," said McDuffie. "He's never been to court on the first one. Who's fault is that? Could be a lot of people's faults."

"The state seems to not think drugs are bad, that's why they are letting these folks out," said Richard Mallard, District Attorney for the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit.

Richard Mallard is the District Attorney for four counties, including Effingham. He says his office is doing their part to make these criminals pay for their crime.

"You evaluate your evidence," explained Mallard. "You evaluate their records and you try to custom fit some kind of sentence that either tries to rehab somebody, punishes somebody if they wont quit, then you gotta move on to your next case because you got plenty waiting on you."

But the numbers show many suspects aren't getting rehabilitated or punished, but taking the deal instead.

"Do you think you are doing a good job in taking care of this problem?"
"I feel like we are doing the best we can with what we have to work with," said Mallard.

"And as for folks who say they (suspects) aren't getting enough time?" I asked.
"We have to work within the law, we have to be fair and not everybody deserves to be slammed. You know it when you see it sometimes," the DA said.

"There's a saying in our office, this guy needs to get gotten," smiled Mallard. "But its not on this case because the evidence is not there. We don't always agree but we do our job, they do their job."
 
A job that Mallard says is more challenging because of budget cuts, and an overcrowded jail system.

"Is there any sense you are plea bargaining these down because of the jail situation?"
"I don't know about that," said Mallard. "You do get a sense of what does it matter sometimes."
"In what way?'
"Because they are going to get out. You're not satisfied with it, but you are satisfied with what you can do. Its not perfect."

"Should money ever be a factor in stopping crime?" I asked Sheriff McDuffie.
"No. But you know as well as I do money is the root of all evil and that big green dollar sign is there to bite us."

No answers from law enforcement of District Attorneys, but soon there will be more room in Effingham County for prisoners.

Effingham is building a new jail right now. Room for 332 inmates, and Sheriff Mcduffie says that means there will be room for every offender, drugs and otherwise.

And don't worry, if you commit a crime, McDuffie says he will leave the light on for you.

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