As an attorney and recently retired Deputy Commissioner of Operations for The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, it was disappointing that the new comprehensive Georgia juvenile code legislation failed to pass. Watching many well-intended professionals take years to finalize proposed legislation, only to see it fail due to questions regarding compromised provisions and lack of resources, was disappointing to say the least. To see a forward-thinking adult criminal justice package pass through the Georgia General Assembly within one year, should make all of us wonder about the real reasons for our joint disappointment this past session. It has been recently announced by Gov. Nathan Deal that juvenile justice will be the new focus of the Special Council on Criminal Justice, which was instrumental in bringing about those need reforms in the adult system. JUSTGeorgia, the coalition of advocates working for reform in the juvenile system, praised the governor’s move.
A national advocacy group is pushing a petition campaign for passage of a new juvenile code in Georgia. Change.org, a national website that provides daily news and information about social justice issues, is circulating an online petition in support of SB 292. According to the website, 38 people have signed up in support. Among many issues, the state bill focuses on:
Keeping kids tried as adults in juvenile detention centers until they turn 17, rather than putting them in adult prison. (Supporters say this will help protect incarcerated children from being victimized behind bars).
The Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss the juvenile code rewrite bill SB 292, Article 6 next Monday at 2 pm in room 450 at the Capitol. Article 6 is controversial because it deals with Children in Need of Services (CHIN’s). These kids are considered status offenders under Georgia law. Currently, they are treated the same as delinquent kids. Article 6 would provide status offenders with family oriented services geared toward fixing their problems. Some of the agencies expected to attend include the Truancy Intervention Project, the Office of Child Advocacy and the Department of Behavioral Health. Attorney Julia Neighbors from Just Georgia wrote a passionate argument for Article 6:
“Current research and best practices now suggest that youth and families in crisis require a faster response than courts can offer and that juvenile justice systems are often ill-equipped to provide the services these youth and families need. ”