Georgia Could Become “Asylum State” for Juvenile Delinquents

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Georgia is set to become the go-to state for delinquent juveniles trying to escape the system.

If legislation is not passed in this session of the General Assembly, Georgia will become the only state without pending legislation to enact the new Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ), an agreement that allows for the transfer of delinquent juveniles and runaways between states.

The potential implications are enormous.

Without an agreement with other states, Georgia will have no mechanism for sending delinquent kids from other states back home or for registering teen sex offenders who cross the border into Georgia, according to Rick Masters, General Counsel for the Interstate Commission for Juveniles, in Lexington, Ky., the governing body of the ICJ, The ICJ replaces and updates a compact established in 1955 that Georgia was a member of.

Currently, Georgia still operates under the framework for the old compact, but the transition period expires on June 30, 2011.  After that date, Georgia will no longer be able to do business with member-states of the ICJ.

Masters said Georgia could become a “dumping ground for out-of-state delinquent juveniles.”  And that includes teens that have been “adjudicated for acts, which would be classified as violent crimes and sex offenses, if they were committed by an adult,” he said.

What this means for Georgia, according to Cindy Pittman, the former Georgia compact administrator, is that if a teen commits a crime—rape, murder or armed robbery, for example—and flees to another state, Georgia would have no way to get him back.  Conversely, if a juvenile delinquent from another state came to Georgia there would be no way to send him back.

However, delinquents aren’t the only juveniles affected by the ICJ.  The compact plays an important role in returning runaways to their families.  Under the compact, police have the ability to detain runaways and send them back to their homes in other states.

“Georgia is going to be an asylum state,” said Donna Bonner, former chair of the Interstate Commission for Juveniles and the current Texas Commissioner for the Interstate Compact for Juveniles. “In a few months,” Bonner added, “if something doesn’t change, there is going to be this big, black hole in the Southern United States for the juvenile justice system and it is going to be known as Georgia.”

The commission granted Georgia extensions in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to Bonner, but “the consensus of the commission is that this is it for Georgia.” “It doesn’t look like Georgia is going to be part of the new compact and this is not only going to hurt Georgia but all of the states,” she said.

Former Governor Sonny Perdue resisted entering the compact because he feared the compact would diminish Georgia’s state rights, Bonner said.  So far this session, no legislation to enact the compact has been introduced into the Georgia General Assembly.

Georgia is already a member-state of multiple similar compacts including one for adult offenders.  When asked why Georgia is declining to enter the ICJ, both the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice and the Governor’s office had no comment.

Ohio, New Hampshire and Indiana have yet to pass legislation that would allow them into the new compact, but all three have made good faith efforts.  Georgia is currently the only state with no pending legislation.

The compact “is for the protection of the public and for the protection of these kids,” said Pittman.  Without entering into the ICJ, July 1 will be “a sad day in Georgia,” she added. “Personally, I feel this is crucial,” Pittman said.  “With juveniles and children you’ve got a chance if you correct those behaviors and supervise them properly to get them on a path to be good, productive citizens.  This new compact is to help hold them accountable, and we need a system where there is equal accountability nationwide.”

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