Georgia Governor: $5 Million for New Juvenile Diversions

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 Panel Vote on Key Juvenile Justice Reforms next Week

A blue-ribbon panel in Georgia is making the last tweaks to its recommendations for a statewide juvenile justice overhaul, ahead of a vote scheduled for Dec. 13. “There are ongoing meetings and discussions about a fiscal incentive model similar to Ohio,” said state Court of Appeals Judge Mike Boggs at a Dec. 4 meeting of the Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform in Forsyth, Ga. The so-called Ohio model, named for the state that pioneered it in the early 1990s, channels certain low-level offenders away from state custody and into locally-run diversion programs.  The Georgia Council may recommend some formula to give financial incentives to counties for treating or diverting kids who are guilty of certain misdemeanors or things that are only illegal because of their youth, such as truancy.

Stakeholders, Foster Kids Speak Out On Georgia Juvenile Code Rewrite

The stakeholder organizations involved in Georgia’s Juvenile Code Rewrite legislation are still providing input for the sweeping revision of the state’s 40-year-old juvenile law.

Representatives from a diverse array of child welfare organizations shared their respective views on HB 641 at a standing-room only hearing before House Judiciary Committee members Thursday.

Overwhelming support for the effort – now roughly seven years in the making – was repeatedly voiced during the two-hour gathering at the state capitol, along with critical suggestions for improvement. The rewrite has received commitments from Gov. Nathan Deal and Georgia House and Senate leadership to ready the measure for a vote in the 2012 legislative session.

“I think we’re finding out that a lot of people have concerns and they’re coming together to make this a good piece of legislation,” says committee chairman Rep. Wendell Willard (R- Sandy Springs), of the presentations made by organizations such as the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, Court Appointed State Advocate (CASA) and Interfaith Children’s Movement. “It was very encouraging to me. Hopefully by January we will have a bill that is ready to move forward.”

Juvenile Justice, Criminal Justice Reform On Governor Deal’s Radar, Policy Staffers Say

Criminal justice reform – including juvenile justice – is among Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s top priorities during his tenure, according to a key member of his policy staff. “As a former juvenile judge this is certainly one of his passions,” said Public Safety Policy Advisor David Werner during the “A Conversation with the Governor’s Policy Staff” event hosted Wednesday by the non-profit Voices for Georgia’s Children. “His son is also a juvenile court judge in Hall County.”

The governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Erin Hames and Health Policy Advisor Blake Fulenwider also participated in the forum attended by about 85 representatives from child advocacy organizations at the Georgia Freight Depot building. Werner said the bi-partisan commission Gov. Deal assembled earlier this year to study criminal justice reforms and make recommendations to a joint legislative committee by January will likely step up its efforts starting next month. The effort is being led by the Pew Research Center.

Gov. Deal Signs Human Trafficking Bill Into Law

The human trafficking bill that toughens the penalty for sex traffickers and seeks to improve outcomes for victims has been officially signed into Georgia law.  

A small crowd of supporters gathered around Governor Nathan Deal Tuesday afternoon as he signed HB 200 at My Sister’s House in the Atlanta Mission. The legislation was introduced this year by Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta) and passed within the same legislative session, which wrapped up last month.  

The governor and his wife, First Lady Sandra Deal, shared encouraging words to the families of trafficking survivors during the signing event. Both commended child advocates for remaining vigilant in their work to eradicate child sex trafficking.

Revived Runaway Act, Good Behavior Bill Close Out 2011 Legislative Session

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.

Crossover Day Update

Crossover Day – the second longest work day on the Georgia General Assembly calendar – has wrapped up leaving some key juvenile justice and child-focused bills dead for the 2011 session. SB 127, also known as the Juvenile Code Rewrite and HB 185, the Runaway Youth Safety Act, that would allow homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children, are among the measures that didn’t meet the crucial deadline. VIEW SOME OF THE KEY JUVENILE JUSTICE AND CHILD-FOCUSED LEGISLATION. “It had not made it out of [the] Rules [Committee] in time and that’s very disappointing,” says HB 185 sponsor Tom Weldon (R – Ringgold). “It looked like it was going to progress.”

HB 265, which supports Governor Nathan Deal’s recent effort to assemble a new bi-partisan council to study criminal justice reforms and make recommendations to a joint legislative committee, was overwhelmingly approved by the House, 169-1.

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 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.

Child Advocates Celebrate Juvenile Code Rewrite Bill Advancement At Reception

The introduction of a long-awaited juvenile code rewrite in the state Senate earlier in the day added to the celebratory mood of an evening reception held in honor of Governor Nathan Deal’s nine newly appointed directors of child-focused state agencies. Many child advocacy organizations turned out for the event hosted by Voices for Georgia’s Children. The Blue Room at the Georgia Freight Depot was all abuzz with the news that Sen. Bill Hamrick’s (R-30) SB 127 was likely headed to a Judiciary Committee hearing, possibly as soon as next week. “We are thrilled to know that it has been introduced,” said Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center Policy Director Kirsten Widner. The organization was actively involved in drafting the legislation.

Gov. Deal Says Juvenile Justice Will Likely Be Part of New Prison System Reform Initiative

Governor Nathan Deal says juvenile justice system reform will likely be a critical part of a new bi-partisan initiative aimed at overhauling Georgia’s criminal justice system. “I would hope that we would be able to include juvenile justice in our review,” Gov. Deal told JJIE.org shortly after a news conference announcing the initiative at the state capitol Wednesday. “That is one of the fastest growing populations, so stemming that tide could play a major role in what we are trying to accomplish.”

State legislative leaders, including Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-DeKalb), Attorney General Sam Olens and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle joined the governor in announcing plans to assemble a new special council that they will all take part in. Legislation introduced today by Rep. Jay Neal (R-LaFayette) calls for a council to study criminal justice reforms and make  recommendations to a joint legislative committee no later than January 9, 2012. Rep. Neal’s HB 265 was touted as the “backbone” of the commission charged with providing solutions to Georgia’s high incarceration rate, the fourth highest in the country.