Georgia drug cases: Who deserves relief from long prison sentences?

Do prison sentences lasting decades — or even life — make sense for non-violent crimes?

These days, both Republicans and Democrats say it’s time to rethink some of the long sentences that were part of the nation’s War on Drugs. In Georgia, a new law kicked in on July 1 that is offering relief to a small group of drug offenders serving long sentences. President Barack Obama is also pushing for early release for some drug offenders in the federal system.

But who should get released and who shouldn’t? That’s a question policy makers ponder. Check out how Georgia’s new law is working so far, with this special AJC online extra that profiles real criminal cases.  This online extra tells the stories of repeat offenders with long sentences. Some have gained release, but others have not. Review the case summaries and see whether you think the punishments fit the crimes.

July 30, 2015 - Macon - Darion Barker, photographed with his mother, Ella Jackson at her house in Macon. When Georgia decided that lock 'em up and throw away the key was the right approach for repeat felons, Darion Barker was among those whose cell key was tossed. He got busted four times in the early 1990s for drug offenses. As a "recidivist" who was giving a life sentence by a Bibb County judge for possession with the intent to distribute, he was not eligible for parole. EVER. Until just a few weeks ago. A new state law kicked in that allowed Barker and a few others to be considered for release by the parole board. Today, the man who thought Georgia's tough stance had sealed his fate inside the system, is today at home with his mother. He's 50 and spent 20 in prison. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Darion Barker, photographed with his mother, Ella Jackson, at her house in Macon. Barker was the first to be released from prison under a new state law granting relief to nonviolent drug offenders.  BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Georgia’s new law is considered a starting point, with some leading policy makers saying it would make sense to offer parole consideration to some drug offenders who aren’t eligible now.

For more details on the new law, read our special report from Sunday’s newspaper that explains the new law and tells the story of Darion Barker, the first person to be released from prison under Georgia’s new law.


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