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 — a sweeping revision of the state’s 40-year-old juvenile law — will likely be ready for a vote in the next legislative session thanks to support from Gov. Nathan Deal and some in the Georgia House and Senate leadership, according to two non-profits involved in the drafting of the legislation. “The time has come for us to rethink how our state is responding to children who have found themselves in trouble with the law,” said Gov. Deal in a news release. “I applaud the careful thinking and inclusive engagement that has gone into developing the Child Protection and Public Safety Act.”
Representatives from the Barton Child Law and Policy Center of the Emory School of Law and Voices for Georgia’s Children, said, this week that the Act, Senate Bill 127, received commitments from Gov. Deal and Georgia House and Senate leadership “to ready the measure for a vote in 2012.” Voices lists the legislation’s current status as “in the Senate Judiciary Committee” with “general support from the Governor’s office as well as the office of the Speaker.” “From the beginning, this process has been a great example of how to build good, thoughtful and effective legislation,” said sponsor Senator Bill Hamrick (R- Carrollton), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC). “We have had buy-in from all the players: from the courts to the prosecutors, defense attorneys, service providers, youth and families; pretty much every interested party.”
JUSTGeorgia, a coalition that includes Voices and Barton along with non-profit Georgia Appleseed, has led the rewrite effort as a vehicle to improve Georgia’s juvenile laws and the underlying social service systems. Barton’s Policy Director Kirsten Widner and Voices Advocacy Director Polly McKinney contend that the rewrite is the culmination of more than four years of research and consensus building to solve dilemmas faced by children, families, courts, detention facilities and taxpayers. SB 127, they said, is based on data-driven “best practices,” with an eye to timeliness and fiscal responsibility.
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 JJIE.org 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.
Buried in the Governor’s budget is a plan that is stirring up conflict among children’s advocates in Georgia, pitting supporters of two child welfare agencies against each other. The plan would fold the Georgia Family Connection Partnership, a 20-year old statewide public-private collaboration, and its budget of nearly $8 Million into the Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOCF) effective July 1, 2011. Currently the Partnership is attached to the Department of Human Services. Officials of the GOCF say the change would save the state money and simplify access to information and services. Opponents of the move counter that it would undermine the Partnership’s commitment to community-based decision-making, jeopardize its private funding, and increase the size of state government.