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March 14--  Vidalia native John Ellington is the Chief Judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals.  Back home at the Vidalia Rotary Club last week, he talked about the impact of the economy on the state's judicial system, the need to relook at who goes to jail for what , and the importance of early education in keeping people out of jail.

"We are the busiest Appellate Court in the United States right now.  We are fortunate we have great technology and a good staff, but we are overworked and underfunded," he said.

"The first order of government is the safety and protection of our people.  The court system is part of our public safety and we need to keep the courthouses open so we can have access to justice around this state," Judge Ellington noted.

With prison populations growing in the state, Judge Ellington says we not only need to be tough on crime, but also be smart on crime. "I think now we are starting to see some alternative courts that are going to be coming to the forefront.  We need to lock up those folks who need to be locked up, but I think there's an opportunity for some rehab and alternatives other than hard beds in prisons," he stated.

The judge also says effective early education pays off down the road.  "Some of the things which manifest themselves early in school often show up later in the judicial system.  "You can tell today by how many children are reading on grade level in the third grade how many beds you'll need in the prison system 15 to 20 years later.  If they don't learn to read, they fall behind and over time they tend to have more problems which involve our judicial system," the Chief Judge reports.