The Departure of a Fine and Caring DJJ Commissioner

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Giovan Bazan, 21, speaks at the 11th annual CHRIS KIDS fundraiser in September, 2011. Atlanta, Ga.

Giovan Bazan, 21, speaks at the 11th annual CHRIS KIDS fundraiser in September, 2011. Atlanta, Ga.

It was with great dismay that I received the news of Commissioner Amy Howell’s departure from the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice late Monday evening.

Having grown up in the foster care system for close to the first 12 years of my life, and having spent the next eight years in DJJ custody, I can say I was practically raised in the system.

Prior to Amy Howell, I have witnessed first-hand the implementation of policy that was far from best practice, and nowhere near in the best interest of the children and youth. I have experienced abuse from staff working closely with youth and observed leadership that did nothing about it. However, the biggest travesty is that no one from the top leadership, in all their meetings pertaining to financial impact and politics, posed the most fundamental question of all time as it relates to serving youth: "What do the youth have to say?"

That is, until Commissioner Amy Howell arrived.

Commissioner Howell has been a champion for DJJ youth and has worked diligently to create services for youth in DJJ custody but also to bring others to the table who are equally interested in positive outcomes as well.

I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Commissioner Howell during my past two years as being an advocate for young people through Georgia Youth EmpowerMEnt an initiative of the Multi- Agency Alliance for Children.

I have spoken along with Commissioner Howell at many state Senate Judiciary Committee earings at the Capitol as well as many stakeholder meetings on HB 641, the Child Protection and Public Safety Act, as well as various other bills advocating for the best interest of youth in DJJ. This includes measures such as the Good Behavior Bill which affords youth in juvenile detention an opportunity for early release contingent upon successful rehabilitation.

Commissioner Howell’s title just doesn't serve her justice. The many sacrifices she's made to improve the way DJJ serves youth, as well as the smaller seemingly inconsequential changes she has implemented, are like those of a caring mother.

I am happy to say I know Amy Howell. I'm honored to have been able to work with, as well as witness her efforts to positively impact the lives of the youth in DJJ, or as she says, "my kids," all of some 22,000 of them.

Amy Howell recently held the title of Commissioner. In the eyes of thousands of youth in the DJJ as well as my own, she has and always will continue to possess one, and only one, title:  Shero.

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