Georgia Prosecutor Blows Whistle on Politicians Using Oversight to ‘Silence Voters’

By Rena Abdusalam

SAVANNAH, GA – Republican leaders in Georgia have created legislation recently designed to inhibit efforts at criminal justice reform, said Shalena Cook Jones, the Chatham County District Attorney in the Eastern Judicial Circuit in Georgia, in a commentary this week in the Savannah Morning News.

“Over the past few days, several people have reached out to ask how I feel about the governor’s recent visit to Savannah to sign Georgia SB 92 into law and create a Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Committee,” wrote Jones.

Jones added, “This law, more widely known by its original name, ‘The Prosecutorial Oversight Bill,’ is designed to keep reform-minded prosecutors in line by constraining their prosecutorial discretion.”

Jones said the legislation will be “another tool certain politicians use to silence voters, keep them out of decisions about [the] criminal legal system, and undermine our democracy. Since 1789, prosecutors in Georgia have had great latitude in determining who they would prosecute, how they would be charged, and how long their sentences should be.

Jones wrote in the commentary that because the District Attorney is an elected position, voters decided whether a prosecutor was “doing their job” adequately.

“For centuries now, more than 97 percent of the prosecutors in this nation were white males, while more than 90 percent of those incarcerated in jails and prisons were people of color,” Jones noted, adding, “Oddly, no one found this strange, even though studies have consistently shown that institutional racism, systemic bias, and economic disparities are primary drivers of mass incarceration.”

She then charged Georgia has had the highest rate of imprisonment in the nation for years, and Chatham County, where Jones works, has had the highest rate of recidivism in all of the state’s 159 counties.

“Before the 2020 elections, and despite these abysmal statistics, no one batted an eye. Prosecutors were free to run their districts however they wanted,” she stated.

“But now that reform-minded prosecutors, who also happen to be people of color, are leading the largest and most profitable regions of the State, Georgia lawmakers have suddenly decided that a qualifications committee is necessary,” wrote Jones.

Jones called the situation absurd.

“Still, proponents of this bill believe that these so-called ‘progressive’ prosecutors are dangerous ‘rogues’ and ‘radicals’ to be feared rather than the credentialed, experienced professionals they are,” she said.

Jones added, “Professionals, mind you, who are feared because they offer smarter, more effective strategies for addressing the ills of the American criminal legal system and threaten the existing power structure.

“S.B. 92 ignores public opinion on reform and silences the voices of voters. Public opinion polls confirm that attitudes in Georgia and nationwide have evolved on criminal justice,” she stated.

She then revealed information about a recent bipartisan poll that was conducted ahead of the 2022 elections that found “eight in 10 Americans support criminal justice reform, including 74 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of independents, and 85 percent of Democrats.”

Jones said two-thirds of voters believed that the criminal justice system needs much maintenance and reform. In Georgia, 86 percent of small business owners agreed that reform, such as Clean Slate policies, will create more job applicants and boost labor recruitment, Jones added.

“The governor and his party in the state legislature are woefully out of step with Georgians and most Americans, who want innovation in the criminal legal system,” Jones asserted. “Laws like S.B. 92 are anti-democratic and feed into a nationally coordinated effort to undo the will of voters.”

“What we are witnessing in this law is not a coincidence but another page torn from the partisan politics playing out across this nation,” Jones said.

“In Missouri, the legislature forced the resignation of District Attorney Kim Gardner by threatening to change her office to an appointed position rather than an elected one. Iowa just passed a law giving the Attorney General sweeping authority to prosecute criminal cases bypassing Kimberly Graham, the newly elected Polk County District Attorney,” she declared.

She added Florida Attorney Aramis Ayala had her murder cases stripped from her office after expressing her opinion about  the death penalty, and another Florida attorney, Andrew Warren, was removed from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis because he “simply [shared] his prosecutorial priorities.”

“Good laws target problems, not people. The more effective way to preserve public safety and prevent mass shootings is to enact smart gun laws that make it hard for certain people to access weapons, another public safety approach that Georgians support,” Jones wrote in her commentary.

Jones argued a better way to break the cycles of incarceration would be to “invest in the lives, education, and upbringing of the children who were legislated into this world by pro-life politicians.

“The way to reduce recidivism is to establish re-entry programs that help returning citizens transition back into society. I welcome and look forward to future conversations with our Head of State and local reps to explore these ideas because we are ‘better together’ in the pursuit of justice for all,” Jones said.

About The Author

Rena is a junior at Davis Senior High School and is currently exploring her interest in the criminal justice system. After high school, she plans to attend college and continue to pursue a career in law.

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1 Comment

  1. Walter Shwe

    Republican leaders in Georgia have targeted duly elected prosecutors for not following in lock step with Republican minority opinion on how to address public safety. This is simply outrageous and must stop at once. If local voters don’t like what incumbent prosecutors are doing, voters will elect one of their election opponents. It’s not rocket science. That’s how the system has worked for hundreds of years. There is only 1 answer to what Georgia Republican leaders really are up to. I can assure you it’s not actually about public safety alone.

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