Governor-Elect Nathan Deal took office Monday in Georgia. In a surprise move just before the winter holidays, he tapped Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Deputy Commissioner Amy Howell to replace Garland Hunt as commissioner. Howell is an alumna of Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic and a past president of the Young Lawyer’s Division of the State Bar of Georgia. In her first formal interview late last week, she talked to JJIE.org’s Chandra Thomas about her plans at the helm of an agency facing more severe budget cuts in the coming year. Your appointment was a surprise to many in juvenile justice circles, was that the case for you too? I didn’t directly seek the appointment, but I have always made it known as the former president of the Young Lawyers Division of the State Bar of Georgia that I am open to new challenges. I was really surprised because I have not been working with the agency for 30-plus years.
Anyone passing by room 450 at Georgia’s capitol on Monday probably thought lawmakers were talking about facial parts. The Senate Judiciary Committee was actually discussing CHINS—the acronym for Children in Need of Services—an important concept in the rewrite of the state’s juvenile code. In the proposed code, expected to be introduced when the legislature convenes in 2011, the term would replace language in the current code about “status offenders.” The change is more than semantic. Status offenses are acts that would not be crimes for adults, such as truancy or running away from home. Children who commit such offenses in Georgia can be classified as “unruly” or “ungovernable,” and under the current code can be detained “for days, weeks or even months in secure detention facilities,” according to a report prepared for the Senate committee by the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory University School of Law.