Georgia Appeals Court Rejects Check-Box Juvenile Court Order

An order by a Juvenile Court judge on a pre-printed form made by checking boxes and writing cursory comments, was thrown out by the Georgia Court of Appeals. The judge admits he got sloppy on the form, but stands by the merits of his decision and explains that the case was complicated by Georgia sentencing guidelines. JXB, a minor from central Georgia, was sentenced to a year in secure state detention for bringing a weapon to school, as specified in an order earlier this year from Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Juvenile Court Judge Philip Spivey. But the order itself was a pre-printed form that offered check-box options to serve as findings, such as: offender “has demonstrated by his conduct a lack of respect for authority, both parental and legal.”

The form also includes boilerplate language on the five categories that Georgia law requires juvenile sentencing judges to consider, such as needs and best interests of the child and protection of the community. Underneath, there is space for the court to record the facts in each category, said Carl Cansino, JXB’s attorney.

It’s Official: Key Juvenile Focused Bills Now Law in Georgia

Some key juvenile justice-related bills passed in Georgia’s 2011 legislative session are now law. The juvenile “Good Behavior Bill” the Runaway Youth Safety Act and the Human Trafficking Bill officially went into effect July 1st. HB 373, known as the “Good Behavior Bill,” gives children who achieve a track record of good behavior and academic success in Georgia’s Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDCs) and Youth Development Centers (YDCs) a chance to substantially reduce their time in custody. The measure, backed by the Council of Juvenile Court Judges, also gives juvenile court judges more discretion. Key provisions in the law include:

Allows judges to review the sentences of designated felons who have served part of their terms for consideration for early release.

It’s Official: Governor Deal Signs Juvenile ‘Good Behavior Bill’ Into Law

Lorena Padron, 18, and Maria Calderon, 19, were all smiles this afternoon as they flanked Governor Nathan Deal in his office. With a stroke of a pen, the governor signed HB 373 into law, giving both of them and thousands of others with a track record of good behavior and academic success in Georgia’s Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDCs) and Youth Development Centers (YDCs)  a chance to substantially reduce their time in custody. Known as the “Good Behavior bill,” the measure passed in the 2011 legislative session that ended last month also gives juvenile court judges more discretion. “I feel very good, I’m very happy,” said Padron, after the signing ceremony at the state capitol. “I feel like I can begin my life again, like I’ll be able to go home and help my family.

Georgia Senate Approves Juvenile “Good Behavior bill”

House Bill 373, also known as the “Good Behavior bill,” has unanimously passed the Georgia Senate.  

“I don’t anticipate any problems,” sponsor Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) said, of the measure approved with a 51 to 0 vote Monday. “I expect the governor to sign it into law. I’m very happy with the bill.”

The measure passed through just in time to meet Thursday’s official end to the 2011 legislative session. Formally endorsed by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and the Council of Juvenile Court Judges, it would allow judges to review the sentences of designated felons who have served part of their terms for consideration for early release.

Crossover Day Is Here: The Latest On Juvenile Justice, Child Focused Legislation

Today is Crossover Day — the critical mid-point in the legislative session, when Senate bills move over to the House and House bills transition to the Senate. Any House bills that have not passed their chamber of origin will not progress in 2011. Because this is the first year of the  two-year legislative cycle, any bills that fail to cross over may still be considered in 2012. Here’s an update on some of the legislation pertaining to young people in Georgia and juvenile justice issues that has been following. Senate Bills

SB 31 would expand attorney-client privilege to cover parents’ participation in private conversations with defense attorneys representing their children in delinquent or criminal cases. The bill introduced in January by Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur) gives the child – not the parent – exclusive rights to waive the privilege. This measure passed the Senate on February 23 and now awaits consideration by the House Civil Judiciary Committee. Introduced last month by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), SB 80 would require any person, including a juvenile arrested for a felony offense, to give a DNA sample.  It would be analyzed and kept in a database by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Juvenile ‘Good Behavior’ Bill Clears Ga. House, Heads To Senate

The Georgia House of Representatives has approved a measure dubbed the “good behavior bill,” that pushes for more discretion among juvenile court judges. The 169 to 1 vote came just in time to meet this week’s critical legislative “crossover day” deadline. “I am so pleased with the passage of House Bill 373 and grateful to B.J. Pak, Jay Neal, Wendell Willard, Stacey Abrams, Yasmin Neal and all of the representatives who voted in support of the bill,” said Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Amy Howell. “It is great that our leadership understood the opportunity this bill presents for DJJ, our youth and Georgia. I am looking forward to working with the Senate.”

Uphill Battle Likely For Juvenile Parole Board Legislation Sponsor

Now that a bill allowing for more discretion among juvenile court judges has been filed with the Georgia House of Representatives, it may be an uphill battle for the sponsor of another bill pushing for the creation of a juvenile parole board. Nearly two weeks ago Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), a Georgia Legislative Black Caucus member, introduced Senate Bill 105, which would establish a three-person juvenile parole panel within the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). “With limited financial resources and the severe overcrowding in our jails, we must begin looking at alternatives to incarceration,” said Sen. Jones of the measure, now awaiting review by the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This bill is aimed at juvenile offenders who have committed only designated felonies.”

The main challenge ahead for Sen. Jones may be the fact that another measure dubbed the “good behavior bill” pushing for more discretion among juvenile court judges was also filed late last week. House Bill 373, which has been formally endorsed by DJJ and the Council of Juvenile Court Judges, would allow judges to review the sentences of designated felons who have accomplished the terms of his or her sentence for consideration for early release. The measure, sponsored by Rep. B.J Pak (R-Lilburn), has been endorsed by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) and House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-DeKalb)

Both bills were introduced on the heels of Governor Nathan Deal’s recent announcement of plans to assemble a new bi-partisan council to study criminal justice reforms and make recommendations to a joint legislative committee by next January.

Juvenile Justice Forum Encourages Agency Collaboration

It was a chance meeting, but highly impactful. Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Garland Hunt struck up what he expected to be a casual conversation on an elevator Tuesday. It turns out the man alongside him worked as a prosecutor in the state and had a lot to say to the newly appointed DJJ chief. “He told me that ‘I know you all want to help out the (incarcerated) kids, but I get to see the victims every day,” says Hunt, who took his post in May. “Don’t forget the victims too.’ I think it was great for me to have that conversation; to be reminded of that fact and to keep that in the forefront of my mind as I make decisions every day.”

Such dialogue – and more importantly creating an opportunity for representatives from various agencies across the state to communicate and collaborate formally and informally – was at the heart of a Juvenile Justice Forum held this week at the Lake Lanier Islands Resort in Buford.

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.