California Guarantees Chance at Parole for Juveniles Facing Life Sentences

With the signature of Governor Jerry Brown, California, minus a few exceptions, joins the handful of states that guarantee an opportunity at parole to juveniles convicted of murder. After serving 15 years, most of California’s roughly 300 so-called juvenile lifers will get a chance to ask for something they thought they would never see: a reduced sentence. The new law allows judges to reduce a life-without-parole sentence to a 25-years-to-life sentence. That means the possibility of an appointment with the parole board. “It’s very exciting, it’s huge,” said Dana Isaac, director of the Project to End Juvenile Life Without Parole at the University of San Francisco School of Law.

Across the Nation, State Legislatures Focused on Children in 2012

State legislatures across the United States have been busy this year with youth and juvenile justice-related legislation. While there have been some failures, such as the last-minute death in the Georgia General Assembly of a comprehensive juvenile code rewrite — a bill that many feared county governments couldn’t afford — other states are working on or have managed to pass significant measures. A few of them are noted below. Perhaps one of the biggest efforts is in California where Gov. Jerry Brown has announced plans to close all of his state’s remaining juvenile detention centers, transferring responsibility for the youth detained there to county parole departments and effectively eliminating the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Consequently, most juveniles in the system would be referred to rehabilitation programs in their home communities.

Volumes of the Georgia Code

Governor’s Budget Concerns Sunk Georgia Juvenile Code Rewrite but Cost of Not Passing it Could be Higher

Budget concerns stalled juvenile justice reform in Georgia this week, as the Georgia Senate declined to take it up in the waning days of the 2012 legislative session. But what about the costs of not passing juvenile justice reform? The proposed 246-page Child Protection and Public Safety Act would have strengthened programs for foster children, established community-based help rather than incarceration for many troubled juveniles and bolstered their legal representation, among many other improvements. Those reforms, which advocates say would save taxpayers money, may now be pushed back at least another year due to questions about the expense associated with other aspects of the bill. The act, for instance, would require that the state help children become independent once they age out of the foster-care system on their 18th birthdays.

Commissioner Announces New Chairman to Head Georgia’s DJJ Board

Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Gale Buckner confirmed the Board’s election of Avery Niles to head the state’s DJJ Board. Niles fills the Chairman post formerly held by long-time Board member Ed Risler, who stepped down earlier this week following the expiration of his term last summer. Niles, a 23-year veteran of the Hall County Sheriff’s Department and current warden of the Hall County Correctional Institution, was appointed to the Board by Gov. Deal in July 2011. As Chairman, Niles will “help guide Board Members as they serve in their advisory capacity to DJJ, providing leadership and counsel to the Commissioner to help improve Georgia’s juvenile justice system,” according to a DJJ release. “I am honored to serve in this capacity,” Niles said.

locker stock photo - Clay Duda, JJIE.org

Texas Educators May Soon Gain Access to Student’s Criminal Records

A piece of Texas legislation that would provide educators with detailed information about a student’s criminal history is poised to become law. If passed the measure would provide teachers and school officials access to juvenile records that have traditionally been confidential in most states, according to an Associated Press story. Educators and juvenile advocates were at odds about the effectiveness of the new measure. Educators said teacher safety was paramount, but advocates feared revealing students’ criminal information would undermine the work of the juvenile corrections system -– a framework that aims to allow youth who’s decision-making skills aren’t fully developed to move beyond early mistakes in life, according to the AP. While current Texas laws allow teachers to be informed verbally about a student’s criminal past, the new legislation would require law enforcement to relinquish “all pertinent details” about a young offender’s history to the school superintendent.

Deal to Create Bipartisan Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform in Georgia

Governor Deal is set to announce the formation of a Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform on Wednesday.  An unusual coalition of state leaders will join him, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston.   The Council will spend the next year studying what to do about Georgia’s packed prisons and juvenile detention centers, how to reduce the bill of more than $1.4 billion, and alternatives to incarceration.  Recommendations are due in January 2012. The event takes place at 1:45pm at the Capitol.

Judge Warns Budget Cuts “Will Have a Crippling Effect on Juvenile Justice in Georgia.”

Many people charged with carrying out juvenile justice in Georgia are concerned about how new state budget cuts will affect children, communities, and the system overall. “I just fear that there’s going to be less policing done on juvenile behavior,” says Early County Sheriff Jimmy Murkerson, of Governor Sonny Perdue’s recent order that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and other state agencies amend their 2011 budget proposals with plans for four, six and eight percent cuts. “The general public seems to feel that [law enforcement] should be handling every offense from sagging pants to curfew violations, but you’ve got to have the manpower to address these minor issues. With these cuts that manpower just won’t be there.”

Gwinnett County Juvenile Judge Stephen Franzen echoes a similar sentiment. “Our ability to respond to the needs of kids and the community is going to be severely damaged,” he says.