Ripe for Juvenile Justice Reform in Arkansas

The number of delinquent youth remanded to the Arkansas Division of Youth Services during the fiscal year that ended in July was the lowest in at least two decades, according to figures recently released by the DYS.

Do We Really Want a New Juvenile Code in Georgia?

As an attorney and recently retired Deputy Commissioner of Operations for The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, it was disappointing that the new comprehensive Georgia juvenile code legislation failed to pass. Watching many well-intended professionals take years to finalize proposed legislation, only to see it fail due to questions regarding compromised provisions and lack of resources, was disappointing to say the least. To see a forward-thinking adult criminal justice package pass through the Georgia General Assembly within one year, should make all of us wonder about the real reasons for our joint disappointment this past session. It has been recently announced by Gov. Nathan Deal that juvenile justice will be the new focus of the Special Council on Criminal Justice, which was instrumental in bringing about those need reforms in the adult system. JUSTGeorgia, the coalition of advocates working for reform in the juvenile system, praised the governor’s move.

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.

ga state house square

Funding for Juvenile Code is Major Concern as Legislature Winds Down

Wildly divergent estimates of the pricetag for Georgia’s proposed juvenile code rewrite continue to swirl around the Capitol as lawmakers return for their last three days of 2012. The 246-page bill has cleared the state House and is expected to come before the full Senate this week, possibly Tuesday, with only minor changes. Gov. Nathan Deal’s office continues to crunch the numbers to help him decide whether the state budget can absorb the expense. “We have solid support in the General Assembly, and we are hopeful the governor will support it as well,” said Kirsten Widner, lobbyist for the Barton Child Law and Policy Center. “If he’s not on board, you can’t achieve the goals of the legislation.”

In Georgia, Two Differing Opinions About how to Revamp the Juvenile Justice Code

Most of the people who know anything about Georgia’s four-decades-old juvenile code agree it needs changing. There is, however, disagreement over how, and how much, it should be changed.
Today, the JJIE brings you two differing opinions on the subject, something that will likely prove to be a major issue when the state Legislature begins its work next year.
Judge Robert Rodatus is a juvenile court judge in Gwinette County, Ga. He has worked in his current position since 1991 and has held a number of positions in the state’s Council of Juvenile Court Judges.
Kirsten Widner is director of Policy and Advocacy for the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. In the recent past, she has become one of the key representatives for groups and individuals working towards revision of the state’s juvenile code.

The Many Ironies of Juvenile Detention

I have found over the years that many naysayers of detention alternatives for juvenile offenders are lacking in the body of research supporting alternatives to detention and are ignorant of the laws governing detention.

Some are politicians, victim advocates and even law-makers. I am more disturbed with the considerable number of prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement unfamiliar with these restrictions — and they are directly involved with kids in the system.

I have been doing some work in North Carolina on detention alternatives over the past few months. I am impressed with the leadership of the secretary of the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice Linda Hayes, her Chief of Staff Robin Jenkins and Deputy Secretary Mike Rieder. They are determined to do the right thing with kids despite the shoe-string budget.

They can showcase many outstanding outcomes from using evidence-based practices. Take for instance Union County, outside of Charlotte. They pursued and got a MacArthur Foundation Action Network grant to develop strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the detention of kids. They have developed many tools that have produced outstanding results.

The coordinators of the effort in Union County are Karen Tucker and Becky Smith. They shared with me that early on in their effort they learned that law enforcement knew very little about the juvenile laws around detention. This frustrated police and sometimes made the relationship between the court and police difficult.

Tucker and Smith worked with law enforcement to introduce specialized training on juvenile laws — especially detention. They found that whether law enforcement agreed philosophically or not with some of the prohibitions on detention for kids, police were less frustrated with the system knowing that the law is the law. This frustration is reduced more when the training also introduces the research in support of the legal prohibitions against detention in many circumstances.

Georgia Juvenile Code Rewrite Could Cost Millions, According to District Attorneys

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.”

Long road to new Juvenile Code

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.

Georgia Teens Argue for New Juvenile Code

Atlanta’s online teen news forum, Vox, has joined JustGeorgia in a campaign to change the state’s juvenile laws.   Here’s part of the latest Vox post from 19 year Giovan Bazan:

The lives of countless youth are dictated by a juvenile justice system that is flawed and a code that is severely outdated. Up until recently, teens have been idly watching as their lives change for the worse either because they didn’t know how to speak out and demand change or they were unable to. Currently, the Georgia General Assembly is convening at the State Capitol, revising the laws that affect all of us teens. The Georgia Code’s Juvenile Court Provision (Juvenile Code) is a series of laws that governs how our state responds to minors and their families in cases of abuse, neglect, violations of criminal law by children and other circumstances requiring court intervention. The laws were enacted in 1971, long before any of us teens were ever born.