President Barack Obama announced his support for a range of gun control policies this afternoon that addressed not only the threat of mass shootings but also the recurring gun-related violence that takes dozens of lives in the country every day. After his speech, he signed multiple executive measures ordering some immediate changes, while four children who had written to urge him to take action against gun violence stood behind him. “This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged,” Obama told an audience that included parents of children killed by a gunman last month at an elementary school in Connecticut. “We can’t put this off any longer.”
The president backed universal background checks for all gun purchases, including those sold privately and at gun shows, a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, increased hiring in law enforcement, and initiatives on mental health and school safety.
Last week, Georgia’s Governor, Republican Nathan Deal, signed into law a new bill that makes all forms of synthetic marijuana illegal within the state, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Under the new law, synthetic marijuana substances, commonly referred to as Spice orK2, are considered Schedule I drugs, making their possession and sale a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Deal said he applauds the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the Georgia General Assembly for quickly putting the legislation together, calling the passage of the law “a pressing need” for the state. “These synthetic substances pose an enormous risk to our public safety,” Deal said shortly after signing the law. “As the usage has dramatically increased, instances of violence, bodily harm and even death have risen with it.”
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan told reporters the GBI is currently instructing law enforcement officials to notify local retailers that synthetic marijuana substances are illegal, urging them to destroy the products under officer supervision.
The California State Assembly is considering a bill that would ease restrictions for members of the press to interview prisoners. The legislation, known as AB-1270, passed unanimously out of the Public Safety Committee Jan. 10 before being referred on to the Appropriations Committee. The bill, sponsored by Public Safety Committee Chair Tom Ammiano, requires the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) to permit reporters to interview inmates personally in California’s prison unless the warden determines the interview poses an immediate threat to public safety or the security of the institution. Reporters must request the interview in advance.
Monday marks the first day of the 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly and while many bills will be considered and debated on the floor of the state Capitol, for those interested in juvenile justice, one piece of legislation gets all of the attention. The juvenile code rewrite, in the form of two separate bills, SB 127 in the state Senate and HB 641 in the House, was reintroduced last year, working its way through various committees and stakeholder meetings. This year, advocates are guardedly optimistic the code rewrite, officially known as the Child Protection and Public Safety Act, will pass the Legislature and land on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for a signature. “That’s our objective,” said Voices for Georgia’s Children Executive Director Pat Willis. “We have great support from the sponsors and committees where the tough work gets done.”
But, there is still work to be done, says Julia Neighbors, JUSTGeorgia Project Manager at Voices for Georgia’s Children and a lead on the code rewrite.
An amended law that took effect July 1 made Mississippi the latest state to rethink how youth under the age of 18 are handled in criminal court. The new measure prevents most 17-year-old misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenders from being tried as adults. Certain felonies including rape, murder and armed robbery may still warrant charges in the adult court system. Two other states, Connecticut and Illinois, passed similar reforms earlier this year bringing the national total to 39 states that view juveniles as any individual below the age of 18, according to a report issued last week by the Campaign for Youth Justice. “This is a good news report.” Liz Ryan, director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, — a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on the issue — told USA Today.
A new study by the Campaign for Youth Justice reports that states across the country are reversing legislation that is pushing 250,000 kids a year into the adult justice system. Following a spike in juvenile crime in the 1980’s and 1990’s, many states began lowering the age that children could be prosecuted as an adult. According to the study, incarcerating youth in adult prisons, “puts them at higher risk of abuse, injury, and death while they are in the system, and makes it more likely that they will reoffend once they get out.”
Fifteen states have already completed the changes necessary to put fewer kids in adult prisons and nine more have legislation in the works. Georgia (along with Colorado, Texas and Washington) has updated its mandatory minimum sentencing laws for juveniles. However, Georgia is still holding on to a law that automatically transfers children aged 13 and older who commit one of the “seven deadly sins” to adult court. Offenses include murder, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, voluntary manslaughter and armed robbery with a firearm.
Since the beginning of the Georgia legislative session our reporter Chandra Thomas and our supporting JJIE.org staff of editors, interns and freelancers have been closely watching all legislation aimed at juvenile justice issues. Thomas had two excellent round-up stories yesterday and today targeting which bills would move forward and which would not on crossover day. I opened my Atlanta Journal-Constitution today to see how its coverage of these juvenile justice bills compared with ours here at the JJIE.org. From what I could see there was nothing to compare. I saw nothing about Senate Bill 127, which is a rewrite of the juvenile code.
Allison Ashe, Executive Director of Covenant House Georgia, and state Sen. Renee Unterman tell us what’s wrong with the current law on runaways and why the House needs to pass an updated version, H.B. 185, the Runaway Youth Safety Act, now. Four months after her 15th birthday Natalie ran away from home, fleeing the sexual advances of her mother’s new boyfriend. A few days later, local law enforcement picked her up and returned her to her mother. The Division of Family and Children’s Services came to investigate. Upon finding no actual physical abuse, the mother and daughter were left to sort out a very complicated situation alone. Natalie ran again, and this time, fearing another visit from the state, her mother did not call for help.
A bill that would make decisions uniform about incarcerating juvenile offenders will not become law this year. “I’ll be honest, this bill is not going anywhere,” said Catherine Lottie, legal counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, referring to H.B. 471. “The governor’s office hasn’t seen it and his people need time to look at it for a number of issues, including how much it will cost the state.”
The measure, sponsored by the committee’s chair, Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) deals with so-called detention assessment instruments (DAIs), evaluations used by officials that help to determine if a juvenile should be incarcerated or not. DAIs allow intake officials to assign point values to juveniles who have been arrested. If the intake officer gives the accused a high enough score, the juvenile is detained.
The clock is ticking for supporters of Georgia’s long-awaited juvenile code rewrite. Crossover day — the critical mid-point in the legislative session, when Senate bills move over to the House of Representatives and House bills transition to the Senate — is now a little less than a week away. So far Senate Bill 127, also known as the Child Protection and Public Safety Act, has not yet made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) and if it does not do so before that critical deadline, it won’t be able to advance any further during this legislative session. That would be a major blow for supporters who have been involved in the rewrite process since 2004. The committee was scheduled to discuss the measure at a hearing Wednesday.