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      Panel would look at sentencing reform

      Georgia leaders want to create a panel that would recommend changes to the state's tough sentencing laws.

      Plans to form the new commission will be announced at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that will draw Gov. Nathan Deal, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein and legislative leaders.

      The new panel would make its recommendations in 2012.

      Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards says many incarcerated people have something in common.

      Drug offenders in particular are the ones that also consume a lot of our jail space. And the issue is do we have alternatives for that type of offender, said Edwards.

      Edwards says the answer is yes, there are alternatives.

      I TMm for rehabilitation of those who are identified as addicts and users, said Edwards.

      Edwards says there is a sharp difference between a drug user, or addict, and a drug seller.

      I think the general notion should be that we should try to help users, and we should to prevent sellers to be able to continue their trade, said Edwards.

      Georgia spends $1 billion a year on prisons. Deal in his inaugural address said that the state cannot afford to continue to lock up nonviolent offenders and supports alternative sentencing for those with drug addictions.

      A study for the Pew Center on the States found that one in 13 Georgians is in prison, on probation or on parole. That's the highest rate in the nation.

      Before we think about giving lighter sentences, consider the correlation between drugs and crime.

      About 75 or maybe 80 percent, maybe a little bit more, of crime in the city and in the county in this area have a drug relationship. Either someone is under the influence of a drug or alcohol or they are doing something because they are trying to get the drug, says Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit Major Bill Berry.