House Bill 373, also known as the “Good Behavior bill,” which pushes for more discretion among juvenile court judges, has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC).
The measure seems to have a track record of advancing just in the nick of time. Last Monday – just two days before the critical Crossover Day deadline – it got pushed through to the Senate. Yesterday Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Amy Howell had about 20 minutes to drive to the State Capitol to testify on it after it was unexpectedly added to the SJC agenda.
“I don’t know what happened I had just left the capitol; I was told that it wasn’t on the schedule and then all of a sudden I get this call from [committee chairman Bill] Hamrick’s legal assistant that I needed to turn around and come back,” says DJJ spokeswoman Scheree Moore. “All I could do was call the commissioner and tell her ‘you’ve got 20 minutes to make it.’”
Howell managed to arrive in time to present on the measure, which has been formally endorsed by DJJ and the Council of Juvenile Court Judges. Sponsor Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) also addressed the SJC, before members approved it with no amendments. If passed into law, HB 373 would allow judges to review the sentences of felons who have served part of their terms for consideration for early release. Behavior and academic achievement would weigh heavily in the child’s favor. A motion could only be filed after he or she had served a year in custody and could not be re-filed more than once a year.
“It originally indicated that we would have to notify the victim within 10 days,” Moore said. “They only asked that we change that to 14 days.”
DJJ brass has praised the measure as a means of promoting “long-term public safety” and providing an incentive for young people in detention centers to better themselves in preparation for life back in the community. The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee. Once passed through, it will head to the Senate floor for a vote. “We’re really excited that it’s advancing so quickly; it’s a good bill,” gushed Moore. “It gives the kids an incentive to do what they need to do.”