In Georgia, Youth and Adult Lock-ups Have Equal Teen Felony Recidivism Rates

ATLANTA – Georgia legislators split the difference when they toughened juvenile justice laws in 1994. They stiffened sentences for the most violent crimes, sending some teens to adult prisons. But lawmakers also gave courts discretion to keep some of the serious offenders in the state’s juvenile facilities. Two decades later, though, a new data analysis shows Georgia's juvenile system has turned out just as high a percentage of repeat offenders as its adult prisons. Whether teens spent time in youth detention centers or adult lock-ups for targeted violent crimes, the analysis found, their felony recidivism rates have been virtually identical.

Reporter’s Notebook: DJJ Bill Could Seal Reports of Staff Misconduct

Whitney Bonds looked like this shortly after another girl attacked her. Photo by Haley Bonds. Allegations of wrongdoing in the state’s juvenile prisons could be sealed from public view under a bill considered yesterday by a House subcommittee
Witnesses representing the state Department of Juvenile Justice, which requested the bill, said it was intended to protect children in custody from possible retaliation for reporting gang or other criminal activity. The current version of the bill, though, makes no mention of gangs or juvenile crime. Rather, it would exempt from disclosure “the information provided by children who report abuses or wrongdoing in the juvenile justice system,” unless the child or his or her representative consent in writing.

Georgia Legislature Passes Some Juvenile-Related Bills, Kills Others in Final Days of Session

Georgia legislators found the money this year to tighten security and respond quickly to emergencies at the state's juvenile detention centers. They also declared cellphones and other telecommunications devices in juvenile prisons to be contraband. But they couldn't find the money to pass juvenile justice reform, because Gov. Nathan Deal and others said they weren't sure how much it would cost. So the five-year effort to overhaul Georgia's aging juvenile code will become a six-year campaign when the Legislature reconvenes in 2013. At the 11th hour, though, one provision of the proposed code rewrite was tacked onto the contraband bill and passed Thursday by both chambers.

Volumes of the Georgia Code

Governor’s Budget Concerns Sunk Georgia Juvenile Code Rewrite but Cost of Not Passing it Could be Higher

Budget concerns stalled juvenile justice reform in Georgia this week, as the Georgia Senate declined to take it up in the waning days of the 2012 legislative session. But what about the costs of not passing juvenile justice reform? The proposed 246-page Child Protection and Public Safety Act would have strengthened programs for foster children, established community-based help rather than incarceration for many troubled juveniles and bolstered their legal representation, among many other improvements. Those reforms, which advocates say would save taxpayers money, may now be pushed back at least another year due to questions about the expense associated with other aspects of the bill. The act, for instance, would require that the state help children become independent once they age out of the foster-care system on their 18th birthdays.

Georgia Juvenile Code Rewrite Suffers Last-Minute Death

Lingering questions about the state’s cost for prosecutors and public defenders in juvenile courts scuttled the bill Monday at the 11th hour.  House Bill 641, an overhaul of Georgia’s juvenile code for deprived, troubled and delinquent children, remained stuck in the Senate Rules Committee and is not scheduled for a vote before the Legislature adjourns Thursday. Rep. Wendell Willard, sponsor of the bill, did not push for a floor vote after hearing that Gov. Nathan Deal still had budget concerns, said Kirsten Widner, policy director at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center. “As best as we can discern, there are enough funding questions about some of the other priorities from the governor’s platform ... that he felt like he needed to make some tough budget decisions, and something had to give,” Widner said. The governor’s office did not have time, Widner said, to reconcile last-minute disputes about the real cost of the reforms.

“There are such wildly different estimates and they didn’t have the time to get to the bottom of all of that, to work through all the numbers and really understand them,” she said.

ga state house square

Funding for Juvenile Code is Major Concern as Legislature Winds Down

Wildly divergent estimates of the pricetag for Georgia's proposed juvenile code rewrite continue to swirl around the Capitol as lawmakers return for their last three days of 2012. The 246-page bill has cleared the state House and is expected to come before the full Senate this week, possibly Tuesday, with only minor changes. Gov. Nathan Deal's office continues to crunch the numbers to help him decide whether the state budget can absorb the expense. "We have solid support in the General Assembly, and we are hopeful the governor will support it as well," said Kirsten Widner, lobbyist for the Barton Child Law and Policy Center. "If he's not on board, you can't achieve the goals of the legislation."

Lawmakers Advance Georgia Juvenile Code Despite Funding Concerns

The proposed overhaul of Georgia’s juvenile justice and child protection laws cleared another hurdle Wednesday, even as local governments continued to fret about the potential financial burden. The bill, five years in the making, would update Georgia’s juvenile code for the first time in 40 years, modernizing procedures and treatments for handling abused, neglected and delinquent children. The state Senate Judiciary Committee recommended passage of a House version of the bill Wednesday afternoon on a unanimous vote. In endorsing the House legislation, the senators agreed that the state’s financially troubled Georgia Public Defender Standards Council should continue to make sure indigent juveniles facing detention have a lawyer. An earlier Senate version of the bill would still have guaranteed attorneys for those youths but would not have made the council responsible.

UPDATED: Guards at Rome, Georgia RYDC Cleared of Inciting Violence But Questions Remain

State officials in Georgia say they have cleared three guards of accusations that they incited violence among girls held at a Rome juvenile detention facility. One of the guards was fired, though, for failing to prevent the Dec. 7 attack at the heart of the allegations, and the other two disciplined for unrelated policy violations. Witness statements (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) in the Department of Juvenile Justice's case file, obtained by JJIE, told investigators that guards had offered them food as bribes to fight other juveniles. A male detainee made similar uncorroborated allegations, the file shows, and the girl accused in the Dec. 7 attack told an investigator that one of the guards told her she wouldn't get in trouble for it.

Which Bills Survived Crossover Day in the Georgia Assembly?

A proposed overhaul of Georgia's juvenile code remains alive at the State Capitol, but bills addressing school attendance and over-medicating foster children died this week as the Legislature completed its 30th day. Or, if not legally dead, the bills are on life-support. The General Assembly designates Day 30 of each year's session as "Crossover Day," the deadline by which the state House or Senate must pass a bill and send it over to the other chamber. Bills that don't make it are dead, but can be revived by tacking the language onto another measure that remains under consideration. The Senate's version of the juvenile-code rewrite -- a mammoth, five-year, 243-page reorganization and update of laws dealing with delinquent, unruly and neglected children -- died Wednesday without a vote by the full chamber.