Thursday, Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign House Bill 242 -- a sweeping juvenile justice reform package that also rewrites the state’s juvenile code-- in Dalton, Ga.
Advocates have been calling for statewide juvenile justice reform for years, with some of the policies rewritten by HB 242 stretching back to the 1970s.
Last year, Gov. Deal reassembled the state’s Special Council on Justice Reform – a body that had proposed recommendations that were adopted as new criminal justice reform laws a year earlier under the recently signed HB 349 -- to make recommendations for reforming the state’s juvenile justice system. A Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians report released last December served as the backbone for HB 242, which was formally introduced to the Georgia House in early February by state representatives and state Senate sponsor Charlie Bethel, a Republican representing the state’s 54th district.
“As Georgia moves forward with its juvenile reform effort, all credit goes to Gov. Deal and the General Assembly,” said Joe Vignati Justice Division administrator for the Governor’s Office for Children and Families. “By focusing on what’s the right thing for children, by doing the right thing for public safety, all the while protecting the taxpayers of our state, I am both gratified and thankful for their joint leadership.”
Among other changes, the bill separates designated felonies into two separate classes, depending on the severity of offense, and prohibits the incarceration of juveniles for status offenses, such as truancy and running away from home. Additionally, the legislation creates a new definition of “children in need of services” (CHINS) and allots $5 million in funding to court-developed, community based alternatives to juvenile confinement.
“The passage of HB 242 represents a belief in the capacity of our children for positive change,” Vignati said. “In my 26 years in our field, I have never witnessed the courage to tackle these difficult issues in such a straight-forward way until today.”