Lennie came to me about 18 months ago, with an attitude. He was a gangbanger and liked to rob people — by force. Not a very nice kid. His mother cried in court as Lennie looked on with emotion — the kind where the eyes roll and he is thinking, “Whatever!” So back during that bad time: Lennie is making straight “F’s,” doesn’t come home some nights, curses his mother, and Daddy is not around.
Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Gale Buckner appointed a new director this week to lead the troubled Augusta Youth Development Campus (YDC). Ronald Brawner will take over from Interim Director Gary Jones, who is returning to his post as Sardis Police Chief, according to WJBF in Augusta. In November, DJJ and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began a joint investigation at the facility after the beating death of an inmate. Another inmate was later charged with murder in connection with the death. The investigation led to the firing of almost 20 YDC personnel amid charges of sexual abuse and inmate possession of contraband.
A recent report on rural America finds staggeringly high rates of poverty among young people, a growing trend the authors describe as widespread and increasing. The report, Why Rural Matters 2011-12, found that almost 41 percent of the nation’s rural students are living in poverty, with 10 states posting rural student poverty rates of more than 50 percent. Although nearly half of the country’s school districts are considered rural using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the report — issued by the Rural School and Community Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit — finds that, on average, rural districts are receiving only one-fifth of state education funds. With an estimated 80 percent of its rural student population participating in federally subsidized meal programs, New Mexico had the highest rate of impoverished rural students of any state in the county. An additional 12 states are listed within the report as having rural education conditions requiring “urgent” attention from legislators.
One summery Friday night stands out in my memory. I had a house full of boys, as was typical and my strategy was to read a book until the wee hours of the morning when everyone quieted down. My oldest was 16, the next 14 and my youngest was 9. Finally about midnight, the house settled in and I turned out the light and went to sleep. I was awakened at 2:30 a.m. by a pounding on the door.
A proposed overhaul of juvenile justice laws could revolutionize the way Georgia treats abused and delinquent children, local officials told a state legislative panel Thursday. But, they cautioned, the reforms are doomed to failure without proper funding. The state House Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a 243-page rewrite of the state’s juvenile code, but only after hearing dire warnings from prosecutors and a defense lawyer about the consequences of underfunding. The bill, among many other provisions, would require that local district attorneys prosecute cases in juvenile courts. It does not state, however, who would pay the bill.
In a four-part series, the Southern Education Desk and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange are examining the new law and its impact on students, families and schools. After 11-year-old Jaheem Harrera committed suicide in 2009, some of state Rep. Mike Jacob’s constituents in DeKalb County, Ga., in suburban Atlanta, asked him to take a look at the state’s existing rules against bullying in schools. He did, and as he told an audience at a fundraiser for the group Georgia Equality last year, he didn’t like what he found. “It was so inadequate, in fact, that the Jaheem Harrera situation was not even covered by the existing law,” Jacobs said. “It only applied to grades six through 12.”
So Jacobs proposed making the state’s anti-bullying measures apply to elementary schools too.
About the only time Judge Aaron Cohn left the familiar confines of his native Georgia and his hometown of Columbus, was to fight with General George Patton’s 3rd Cavalry during major campaigns in Europe during the Second World War. Judge Cohn, it seems, likes things the way they are, enjoys his Georgia, his Columbus and, since 1965, his bench on the juvenile court in that west Georgia city up against the Chattahoochee River. This week Judge Cohn has done something surprising. He is stepping down, in itself not remarkable occurrence, until you understand that he is the nation’s longest serving juvenile court judge, and that he does so at the age of 95. He will, he said, retire at the end of September.
Bullies may not have committed any crimes while bullying, but officials in one south Georgia county say bullying may lead to a life of crime. Dougherty County, Ga., District Attorney Greg Edwards told The Albany (Ga.) Herald that, while there is no specific crime for bullying, “about 25 percent of cases we come across relate to bullying to some extent.” Edwards went on to say he believes bullies often, “start in juvenile court and graduate to more serious crimes.”
According to Dougherty County’s juvenile prosecutor, Andre Ewings, those crimes can vary greatly. “It can be almost anything,” she told The Herald. “It can be a simple battery to as serious as an aggravated assault. It may also be terroristic threats.” Today, much of that bullying is done online through social networking sites like Facebook. Ewings also said she believes bullies tend to get in more trouble than other children.
Despite wearing an ankle bracelet, a Henry County, Ga., teen allegedly went on a wild crime spree. The 16-year-old, now in police custody, is accused of two carjackings, the theft of a third car and armed robbery in the early morning hours of July 8. The boy was finally tracked down by the LoJack device in the stolen Land Cruiser he was driving and not by the GPS monitoring device strapped to his ankle, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The ankle bracelet was for earlier armed robbery charges. As JJIE reported last September, Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice has been using ankle monitors for years.
Two years ago Eric Claros, 17, was barreling headfirst on a path of self-destruction. When he wasn’t skipping school or getting high smoking marijuana, he was breaking into homes with his friends just for the heck of it. He eventually got arrested and spent some days in a local detention center outside of Atlanta. After his release, a probation violation eventually landed him in a program in Clayton County, a suburban community just south of the city. The Evening Reporting Center (ERC) is a juvenile court run alternative to incarceration program.