Judge Rodatus

Proposed Revision of Georgia Juvenile Code is Flawed

I would like to take a few minutes to state my thoughts on the status of Georgia’s juvenile code revision and the course of action I intend to follow. The short version is, I see no point in continuing with the “stakeholder meeting” approach to reaching a compromise on the proposed bill, HB641. I intend to work diligently to see this bill never sees the light of day. We have spent seven years trying to be heard about our serious reservations about the Proposed Model Code (PMC), and the document, now in its third iteration, still is flawed. Keep in mind we, as judges, special assistant attorney generals, CASA’s, guardians ad litems, district attorneys and public defenders had no input into the initial draft.

Steve Reba: Adult by Fiat, Perseverance by Child

One of the first children—pardon me, one of the first thirteen-year-old adults—that  Georgia automatically transferred to the criminal justice system has spent more than half of his seventeen years in the hole.  

His knuckles bear the scars of an antipathy to abusive power and injustice, as does his disciplinary record.  And while his moral compass is quite in line with what passes for heroism on the outside, on the inside, such defense of principle usually leaves you bantering with desolation’s four walls. There was the correctional officer who took a stack of his neatly written letters asking for legal assistance that the boy was planning to send once he could afford postage. After tossing them on the ground, the officer urinated on the pleas for help in front of the seventeen-year-old.  Or, there was the klansman correctional officer at Alto who constantly referred to him as “nigger slave.” As you’ve likely deduced, his response to both resulted in injury to the officers, years in solitary, and retributive cruelty from the friends of those he beat, which kept the cycle spinning. His are the kind of prison offenses that make parole difficult.  In a history-written-by-those-who-conquer situation, facts of these incidents are generally not included in the summaries supplied to the parole board.

Survey for Georgia Teens and Parents: Your Views On School Discipline

A new survey to gauge what parents and students think about  public school discipline is being fielded right now by the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. The non profit group is analyzing student discipline issues across the state. They’re looking at student discipline data and interviewing a wide range of people connected with schools and courts, including principles, teachers, school probation officers, attorneys and juvenile court judges. Twelve school districts representing a range of geography and economics are currently participating and have been promised anonymity.  JUSTGeorgia and the Barton Center are helping get the word out to families. “We want a broad based and diverse group of parents and students to respond.  We’ve asked a number of stakeholder groups around the state to forward surveys to their mailing list so we can get as many views as possible,“ said Rob Rhodes, Director of Legal Affairs at Georgia Appleseed.

Long road to new Juvenile Code

The next session of the Georgia General Assembly is months away but advocates are busy polishing a major bill that could affect children and their families across the state. In fact, they’ve been working on this legislation—a complete revamp of the state’s juvenile code—since 2004. A new code, the first in four decades, was introduced in 2009 as The Child Protection and Public Safety Act but failed to make it to the floor for a vote by the end of the two-year legislative term. To be considered in the term that begins next January, it must be reintroduced.   Its supporters want to make sure it’s in good shape.  “Our goal is to work through the 2009 bill as a draft,” said Kirsten Widner, director of policy and advocacy at the Barton Child Law & Policy Center at Emory University, “and to have an edited version for the next legislative session.”

“We’re going to take the opportunity to make some technical changes and changes all the stakeholders can agree to,” said Mindy Binderman, director of government affairs and advocacy of Voices for Georgia’s Children, a policy advocacy group. A hearing on the proposed code is set for June 28 at the Capitol.  More meetings and hearings are expected over the summer.