Hancock State Prison

In this Thursday, Aug. 19, 1999, file photo, a guard walks past the tents that make up the J-Unit at Hancock State Prison outside of Sparta, Ga. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

ATLANTA — Prosecutors could gain access to otherwise secret files of prison inmates convicted of violent crimes who are up for parole under legislation that cleared the Georgia House of Representatives Thursday.

House Bill 168 passed in the Republican-controlled House 99-66, along party lines. It stems from the case of Torrey Scott, who raped four women in Savannah and murdered one of them after being let out of prison on early parole. Scott was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole in 2016.

Current Georgia law classifies information from the files of state prison inmates as “state secrets” that cannot be released to anyone, state Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, the bill’s chief sponsor, told his House colleagues Thursday.

The legislation would create an exception allowing district attorneys to request and receive information on how an inmate who is up for parole has behaved in prison, Petrea said. Such information would help prosecutors determine whether to file an objection to paroling inmates who have committed sexually inappropriate behavior while behind bars, he said.

“Individuals operating that way in prison may be a risk to broader society,” he said. “This bill is not about parole. It is about how we protect people in our community from people like Torrey Scott.”

Petrea cited national statistics showing that 72% of violent felons commit another violent crime within five years of being released from prison.

“Let’s make sure we don’t let people out who are going to be a threat,” he said.

The bill would only apply to inmates who have been convicted of violent sex crimes or other violent felonies, including murder or armed robbery.

It also includes a provision prohibiting district attorneys who receive information on an inmate from disclosing it to the public. Violators would be charged with a misdemeanor.

Democrats opposed the bill as unfair and open to abuse.

House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, questioned giving district attorneys inmate records when defense lawyers are not allowed the same access.

Rep. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, said information contained in inmates’ files isn’t always accurate.

But Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, said the bill has gained widespread support from district attorneys across Georgia, both Republicans and Democrats.

The bill’s cosponsors include Republican Reps. Ron Stephens of Savannah, Barry Fleming of Harlem, Bruce Williamson of Monroe, Heath Clark of Warner Robins, and John LaHood of Valdosta.

The legislation now moves to the Georgia Senate.

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