Thoughts From a Lawmaker on Georgia’s Former DJJ Commissioner

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When I heard the news that Amy Howell was stepping down as commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice, my first reaction was sadness and dismay. Ms. Howell has been a great asset to the agency and resource to the General Assembly for many years.

I have had the pleasure of working with Ms. Howell over many years in different roles. I first met her when she was a fellow with the Southern Juvenile Defender Center at Emory, researching policy initiatives to improve Georgia’s response to children who had started down the wrong path. I was delighted when she transitioned to the Department of Juvenile Justice, and became one of the primary representatives for the agency at the General Assembly. My colleagues and I have valued her consistent, credible voice for that agency, through her various roles as legal counsel, deputy commissioner, and finally commissioner. In the halls of the Capitol, Ms. Howell is highly respected for her thoughtfulness, integrity and openness to the ideas about how to improve our state’s juvenile justice system. Her articulate representation has served DJJ and Georgia very well.

I have also had the pleasure of working with Ms. Howell in her capacity as a leader in the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the Georgia State Bar.  Ms. Howell was the co-chair of the YLD Juvenile Law Committee when it began work on the Proposed Model Juvenile Code for Georgia.  Her vision and leadership allowed this project to flourish, and to eventually serve as the foundation for significant system reform in the form of the Child Protection and Public Safety Act, which I am proud to sponsor as House Bill 641.  After her committee leadership, I watched Amy rise through the ranks of the YLD Executive Board, to become President of the YLD two terms ago. Her tenure as leader was a productive period for the YLD, filled with Ms. Howell’s innovative new projects, such as the Public Interest Internship Program and a new focus on unique needs of parents in the profession.

I understand that some concerns have been raised in this publication about Ms. Howell’s management of the agency.  I would caution readers to remember that personnel matters within an organization are difficult to judge from the outside. Because of the confidentiality and discretion appropriate to these delicate matters, administrators are not able to respond when allegations are made by people who are unfamiliar with all the facts. While I have not been privy to the specifics of the situations described in the article, I am confident that Commissioner Howell brought the same thoughtfulness and integrity to those decisions that she brings to all of her work.

Ultimately, now that my initial sadness has passed, I recognize that the DJJ’s loss is the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ gain. Ms. Howell’s legal talents led DJJ out of federal oversight, and she has the tenacity and skill to do the same for DBHDD with their new federal oversight. I am delighted that she will continue to play a critical role in the management of our state executive agencies, and look forward to working with her in her new capacity.

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