House Minority Leader: Alternative Sentencing for Kids

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We’re asking lawmakers to weigh in on issues affecting children and the juvenile justice system in Georgia. We’re kicking off this interview series, with some insight from Representative Stacey Abrams (D-DeKalb) on the challenges ahead for the Department of Juvenile Justice,  now charged with helping troubled children amid severe budget cuts.

Stacey Abrams

State Representative Stacey Abrams

  • Newly-appointed Minority Leader
  • Sits on the Juvenile Justice Sub-Committee of the Judiciary  Non-Civil Committee

What do you consider some of the main pressing issues facing juvenile justice in Georgia?

I am very interested in working with the new Commissioner Amy Howell as I was with the former commissioner on issues of juvenile justice because it is an important issue. How we deal with our children speaks to the stability of our communities and to so many larger structural issues in our state. I am a supporter of the Juvenile Code rewrite underway. I like that it has been done over some years with a great deal of public and community input. It has included input from community leaders, judges, district attorneys, and solicitors. That’s important  because it’s not just one group having input on writing this legislation. I push for alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitation of our youth and I think that will be one of the consequences of this legislation.

What other changes would you like to see in regards to how Georgia administers juvenile justice?

I think we need to rethink how we treat juveniles in regards to mandatory minimums. Our system of mandatory minimums creates difficulties for the rehabilitation process for our kids. I’m not going to introduce any related legislation this session, but I do think we need to look closely at how we are imposing these mandatory minimums. We need to stop setting these random [sentence] numbers. We need to look at how these random numbers are affecting juveniles in Georgia.

In light of those cuts, what ideas or suggestions do you have for DJJ moving forward?

I share concerns with many others about how these cuts will affect the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission. We also need look at the fact that not only has the DJJ budget been cut, but that of DFCS and other agencies that provide services to young people. One way to prevent young people from getting into the juvenile justice system is to ensure that he or she gets the services that they need. We need to be more proactive about making sure these children get these services instead of being more reactive afterwards and locking them up.

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