Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is asking the state legislature to spend $5 million dollars to set up community diversion programs for low-risk youth offenders, on the model of other states. The appropriation would “create an incentive funding program” to encourage communities to treat appropriate youth at home, Deal told lawmakers at his annual State of the State address on Jan. 17. “We would emphasize community-based, non-confinement correctional methods for low-risk offenders as an alternative to regional and state youth centers,” Deal said, options like substance abuse treatment and family counseling. He emphasized the chance to save money, saying every secure bed in a Youth Detention Center, a facility for longer-term sentences, costs $91,000 annually.
Georgia’s juvenile code rewrite may have hit another bump on its long road to passage. In a letter signed by Athens-Clarke County, Ga., District Attorney Kenneth Mauldin, the District Attorney’s Association of Georgia asked the Georgia Assembly’s Advisory Committee on Legislation to “withhold consideration” of the bill currently in the State House containing the rewrite.
Mauldin, writing in the nine-page letter addressed to Advisory Committee Chairman Charles Clay, argues the bill places an additional burden on the DA’s office. Additionally, it would cost the taxpayers of each county at least $5.3 million each year to pay for an additional assistant district attorney and staff to handle the increased workload.
Mauldin added that the measure, HB 641, requires the prosecuting attorney to decide whether to charge a child with a delinquent act. According to the letter, only a few districts in Georgia currently follow this practice.
Mainly, however, the letter focuses on the added financial burden that could be placed on district attorneys’ offices, estimated at some $20,000 million by the association.
“We would ask,” Mauldin writes, “that the committee recognize that implementation of this important measure will require a financial commitment by state and local governments — a commitment that in the present, economic climate may not be available.
Mauldin goes on to say a consensus may be reached by using a “collaborative approach.”
Kirsten Waldman, director of Policy and Advocacy at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law, said the District Attorney’s Association has been a “great partner” in the effort to rewrite the state’s juvenile code and that she has confidence the remaining differences can be bridged.
“We are still trying to gain the support of the association and we believe we’ll get it,” she said. “The more substantive disagreements have already been dealt with. Now, we’re just dealing with some of the minor points. We should be able to resolve these.”
When Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold) passed Barton Child Law and Policy Center Policy Director Kirsten Widner in a crowded hallway in the state capitol Thursday evening, he couldn’t resist passing on kudos. “You’ve had a good day,” he said, leaning in with a smile and an outstretched hand. “You’ve had a good day too,” she responded, with a grin and firm shake.
That exchange, in many ways, summed up the reaction many state child advocates and members of the Georgia General Assembly have expressed about the official close of the 2011 legislative session. And it’s not so surprising.
Since the Georgia House of Representatives passed the human trafficking bill HB 200, (which includes stronger penalties for the prostituting of children) I asked Kaffie McCullough, founder of JJF’s A Future. Not A Past. (AFNAP) for her thoughts. Kaffie, how does this bill differ from Bill 304 which you worked on a year ago? “It does some of those same things, and it’s a step forward, but it’s not as far as ultimately we’d like to go.
A bill cracking down on human trafficking has passed the Georgia House of Representatives and will now move to the Senate for approval. The legislation, HB 200, increases penalties for those guilty of human trafficking, especially if the victims are less than 16 years old. Further provisions are made for victims who have suffered as a result of forced prostitution.
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.