Dougherty has 5,000 in assigned probation

ALBANY, Ga. -- Dougherty County has more than 5,000 adults on some form of felony probation, said a Georgia State Department of Corrections official.

"This is every kind of felony from some forms of shoplifting to child molestation to some on probation for murder after having served their sentence in prison," said Kimberly Persley, a probation officer with the state's Albany Probation Office.

The county has a population of more than 95,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2009 estimate. With more than 5,000 felons that means more than 5 percent of the county's population has been convicted of a felony.

"That is shocking, that is a whole community," said Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard after hearing the numbers at the monthly Gang Task Force meeting Thursday afternoon in the Government Center.

With what he called a generation on parole or probation, Howard was concerned about the next generation growing up. A common practice, Howard said, was for older members of gangs to have younger members do the crimes for them.

Many at the meeting agreed that a poor home environment leads many children into gangs, where they learn irresponsible behavior.

"There is a breakdown in the household," Albany Police Department Chief John Proctor said. "Calls come in for us to do something with a 9-year-old in a home and there are two adults in the home. Discipline must start in the home. Kids expect regimen and guidance in the home."

Proctor said that he continues to see the same people arrested over and over again without regard to the consequences of their actions.

This is particularly true of juveniles, he said.

"Misdemeanors don't mean anything to them. They can do four felonies before they are sent to a Juvenile Detention Center for 30 days. Those consequences don't deter them," Proctor said. "We must have diversion programs and fear for the consequences. I support tougher practices in the right setting, but they must be managed right and done right."

Diversion programs such as youth sports, jobs in the public sector and mentoring programs cost money, Proctor said.

One successful program that has been around since 2000 is the "Turn-Around Program." It is is an effort that involves a collaboration between schools, law enforcement, juvenile court and other community agencies. The program pairs troublesome students within the Dougherty County School System with a city officer, often as a mentor.

Proctor said it is up to residents to seek support from their elected representatives so that programs can be continued and added to.

More support, more involvement from the public must come for the situation to improve said Lt. Terron Hayes, crime prevention director of the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office.

"We had a workshop with the Albany Police, the school police, the Dougherty County Police last year and everybody was invited," Hayes said. "Only five (residents) showed up. The last one was in June. We had about 10 to 14 participants and eight of them were sent by juvenile court."

Law enforcement agencies can only do so much. Residents need to get out and support the agencies, Hayes said. Consistent support from residents is necessary, he said.

One of the about 12 residents with no connection to a government agency attending the meeting agreed.

"We get a lot of information at these meetings. I'm here at every one," Ed Brown said. "They got to have more people come out. There should be so many that they use that bigger room across the hall for a meeting."

Howard encouraged residents to attend his 10 a.m. Town Hall meeting Saturday at the East Albany Community center, 1721 Oglethorpe Blvd. A round-table discussion among top law enforcement officials is scheduled with time for questions from residents.

John Proctor, Albany Police Department chief; Greg Edwards, Dougherty County district attorney; Kevin Sproul, Dougherty County sheriff; Bill Berry, Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit commander; and Herbie Solomon, juvenile court judge, are the meeting's scheduled speakers.