An Unjust Solution

Not long ago in Georgia, a six-year-old named Salecia Johnson was handcuffed and taken from her elementary school to the local police station. The school chose to do this, instead of sending her to time-out, or home to her parents or to the principal’s office. Zero tolerance in our schools has become an excuse for a blatant abdication of leadership, fairness, compassion, and common sense. When children are arrested for being children (Salecia apparently had a temper tantrum, something the local police in Millidgeville, Ga., figured out after they all went down to the station) who is impacted, what are the implications for our future, and what can we do? Increasingly, it is children with disabilities and minorities who are impacted the most.

Kindness in the Courtroom as a Child Launches into a Violent Outburst

I had been on the bench for a couple years when I met her. Her name was Jade — she was 12 years old when she appeared in my court. Besides being disrespectful, not following the rules at home, and staying out all night, she was caught giving oral sex to two adult males. Her mother did not know what to do. The police told her to come to juvenile court and file what is known as an unruly petition.

Georgia Juvenile Code Overhaul Clears State House

After five years of work, a 243-page overhaul of Georgia’s juvenile code passed the state House of Representatives unanimously on Wednesday. The bill — endorsed by judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, state agencies and child advocates across Georgia — now moves to the Georgia Senate. House Bill 641 creates a broad array of programs for neglected children and for children who leave the foster-care system at age 18; strengthens protections for children in juvenile court; clarifies when the state may remove a child from home or seek to terminate parental rights; and adopts best practices from across the country for handling deprivation and delinquency cases. “People will quite often address us as elected House members and say, ‘Why do you do that? Why do you run for office?”

The Story of an Armed Robbery and a Second Chance, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part opinion piece written by Judge Teske. Part one appeared in this space Tuesday. James and Matthew — the boys who robbed Henry, a pizza deliveryman, at gun point — stood in court telling him they were sorry as they wiped the tears from their eyes. With my permission, Henry walked to the bar, reached across and shook the boys’ hands, and said in a soft voice, “I forgive you.” Henry also had tears.

ga state house square

New Georgia Juvenile Code Advancing in State Legislature


A long-planned overhaul of Georgia’s juvenile justice code got its first official nod of approval Wednesday, but backers still haven’t figured out how to pay for it. An estimated $15 million price tag is attached to the proposed Child Protection and Public Safety Act, sponsored by state Senate Judiciary Chairman Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton), whose committee gave the bill a “do-pass” without dissent. Gov. Nathan Deal did not include that cost in the coming year’s budget so, Hamrick said, supporters pushed the effective date of the bill back a year — to July 2013 — to buy the time to find funding for it. “We have got to work on that with the House and the governor,” Hamrick said. Some government agencies were objecting to taking on new programs that they couldn’t pay for, he said, “so now it really seems to be how are we going to fund it.”

Mom, Teen Daughter Claim Guards Complicit in Attack at Georgia Detention Center

Haley Bonds says she did everything she could think of to protect her 16-year-old daughter from the beatdown she was expecting at a youth jail in Northwest Georgia. Yet, just 20 minutes after a supervisor assured her Whitney Bonds would be safe, another called Haley to say her daughter was “bleeding out” and being rushed to the emergency room. At the hospital, Haley said, doctors told her Whitney’s nose had been “crushed” and she would need corrective surgery and dental work. Whitney had just told a supervisor that two guards had bribed her and another girl to attack a third girl the night before, according to a written record of the complaint obtained by JJIE. The guards, she charged, threatened to “put out a hit on her” if she told anyone about it.

Looking for Reasons for Racial Imbalance in the Juvenile Justice System

It doesn’t take a lot of research to see that racial disparity in incarceration of both adults and juveniles is alive and well in the United States, but it is not so easy to say why. When I entered the Georgia prison system in 1985, blacks made up about 70 percent of the inmate population. That same year, blacks were 30 percent of the population of my home state. I grew up in a town in south Georgia with a large black population, and I had friends in school who were black. But I had no real consciousness of the inequality that existed in the justice system.

New Study Finds Georgia Foster Kids are Over-Medicated

Georgia’s foster children are being over-medicated, often to sedate them or control their behavior rather than treat a medical condition, a new study confirms.

The question is: What should Georgia do about it? One solution being considered by state legislators calls for oversight of medications given to adjust the mood or behavior of thousands of foster children in Georgia. The bill calls for written standards for the dosages and combinations of psychotropic drugs given to those children, as well as an independent clinical review to assess all such medications and related treatments twice a year. But some child psychiatrists, worrying about second-guessing and lengthy delays in treatment, told state lawmakers last week that they object to a provision that would require the state’s pre-authorization for certain medications or unusual doses. They also cautioned about the consequences of language that would require the informed consent of children 14 and older before taking a new psychotropic drug.

Audit Shows New Georgia Children’s Agency Serving Fewer Children

In 2008, Georgia combined two state offices serving troubled youth in the name of effectiveness and efficiency. Now, an audit says the newly created office has resulted in little savings on overhead while managing to serve only about one-third as many children. The analysis found “no evidence” that the Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOCF) is more efficient, state Auditor Russell Hinton said. Administrative costs remain about the same as before the merger, he reported, and a new grant-making philosophy built in another layer of bureaucracy that may well cost taxpayers more. Hinton also found that the office was carrying over unspent money from one year to another, rather than returning it to the state treasury as required by law.

Firings and Contraband at Georgia’s Troubled Youth Detention Centers

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is wrapping up its criminal investigation at the state’s youth prison in Augusta and plans to present its findings to Richmond County prosecutors by mid-February. The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is pulling together its own findings after unannounced visits to Augusta and the state’s 25 other jails and prisons for youth offenders in recent weeks, DJJ Commissioner Gale Buckner said Thursday. Those findings — which have already led to disciplinary actions and policy changes — have been shared with leadership at each institution and should be consolidated into a single report, also by mid-February, for Gov. Nathan Deal and DJJ board members. “We’ve had a lot of personnel changes at Augusta, and it’s not over,”

Buckner told the DJJ board during a meeting of its members on Thursday. At least a dozen staff members have already lost their jobs at Augusta in the aftermath of the Nov.