A few days ago, one of Judge Mary Carden’s probation officers came to her with a problem.
A juvenile on probation and under the supervision of her court had moved to Texas with his parents. The probation officer did what he had always done; he phoned his counterpart in Texas, explained the situation and asked, as usual, that Georgia transfer supervision to the state of Texas.
“Texas,” Judge Carden said, “essentially told us ‘come get your kid.’ They told us that Texas is very much aware that Georgia has chosen not to sign the Compact and as far as they were concerned, this wasn’t their problem.”
The Compact Judge Carden refers t o is the Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ), a legal mechanism that allows for the speedy and seamless transfer of delinquents and runaways between states.
Georgia currently operates under the framework of a 1955 agreement. In the works for years, the new Interstate Compact for Juveniles is an update of the 1955 measure. Every state in the nation, save Georgia, has either adopted it or is in the process of doing so.
Officials at the Interstate Commission for Juveniles (the governing body of the ICJ) have told JJIE.org that Georgia was given extensions in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and that no more extensions will be granted.
This means that if the state does not sign the new Compact by June 30 of this year, Georgia will no longer have a legal mechanism to transfer kids out of the state and other states will not have a mechanism for transferring them back to Georgia.
Officials from the governor’s office and from the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice have not responded to requests for comment.
Judge Carden, however, says it is high time someone pay attention to what she says is a potentially disastrous situation.
“So everything has been working pretty smoothly with the Compact up until now,” said Carden, a juvenile court judge for Hall and Dawson counties north of Atlanta. “But now it’s going to be a mess if someone doesn’t do something.
“So we have kids leaving all the time and going to other states,” she said. “Their parents get jobs, they move, and we transfer the supervision of the probation to the other state. Now what are we supposed to do? Well, the way I see it we have two choices. We let them go and try to supervise them from here, from Georgia, or we keep them here in detention, under supervision.”
Since neither one of those choices is viable, she added, “What will probably happen is we’ll just let them go.”
And there’s your mess, says Carden.
“It’s like we’re saying to all the kids out there, ‘Hey come on to Georgia and commit a crime,’” she said. “This could become a sanctuary state.”
Carden added that a similar problem will impact runaways. The system currently allows for the easy transfer of runaways home, but without the Compact there will be no legal way to deal with getting them back home.
Officials familiar with the Compact say former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue objected to the new agreement on the grounds that it infringed on the state’s sovereignty. An odd objection, many say, since Georgia has an almost identical Compact dealing with adults.
Although the office of the current governor, Nathan Deal, has been silent on the issue, he has objected to a number of bills because the cost of the measures either added to the budget or was unknown.
Carden, for one, has little patience with that argument.
“I can tell you right now,” she said, “there are going to be consequences for not having a system in place to deal with this.”
She pointed out that parents will have to come up with money to get runaways home, that the state will incur untold dollars in housing more juveniles in detention centers while many others, runaways and offenders, will be left on the streets.
“Does that give you an idea of the quandary we are about to get ourselves into?” she said.