Study Re-Starts on Juvenile Justice Overhaul for Georgia

After more than five years of drafting, a comprehensive juvenile justice reform bill is expected to appear in the Georgia General Assembly in January, which would give children in the court system access to updated intervention and rehabilitation. A juvenile justice subcommittee will be formed soon out of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, a blue-ribbon panel appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to study adult and child justice codes.  The full committee held its first meeting July16, where it heard a background briefing from the Pew Center on the States about juvenile justice in other states. The subcommittee will build on at least five years of work that ended in House Bill 641, a bill that died in the legislature in March. “We hope to find things to make improvements to the current 641,” said bill author state Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs). When it died in March, the 246-page bill brought the state’s juvenile justice code up to date with best practices about how to treat juveniles in the court system, whether as defendants, abuse victims or both.  It also created a category of juveniles called “children in need of services,” who do things considered unruly, but not quite criminal, such as skipping school, running away from home, or breaking curfew.

Georgia Legislature Passes Some Juvenile-Related Bills, Kills Others in Final Days of Session

Georgia legislators found the money this year to tighten security and respond quickly to emergencies at the state’s juvenile detention centers. They also declared cellphones and other telecommunications devices in juvenile prisons to be contraband. But they couldn’t find the money to pass juvenile justice reform, because Gov. Nathan Deal and others said they weren’t sure how much it would cost. So the five-year effort to overhaul Georgia’s aging juvenile code will become a six-year campaign when the Legislature reconvenes in 2013. At the 11th hour, though, one provision of the proposed code rewrite was tacked onto the contraband bill and passed Thursday by both chambers.

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.

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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.”

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.

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.”

Funding Cuts to Juvenile Justice System in Georgia could be Restored to Levels Closer to those of 2009

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed 2013 budget for juvenile justice, after three years of deep cuts, could bring spending a bit nearer to 2009 levels, state officials say. Deal’s spending priorities, though, reflect a harsh trend inside Georgia’s youth prisons. They house a much different population — older, more violent and much more difficult to manage — than they did just a few years ago. “We certainly find them more volatile and more physically demanding,” said Jeff Minor, Georgia’s deputy juvenile justice commissioner. The trend was underscored last year when disturbances at youth detention facilities in DeKalb and Dodge counties could only be quelled with the aid of state and local police.

Georgia Governor to Establish Permanent Criminal Justice Reform Oversight Council

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal pledged to sign an executive order establishing a permanent Criminal Justice Reform Oversight Council to study the state’s criminal justice system. The move comes on the heels of a report by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform that makes recommendations to lawmakers about methods for reducing the high cost of incarceration for taxpayers. The report by the Special Council also recommends the new Oversight Council address juvenile justice reform. “Council members believe that a full examination of the state’s juvenile justice system should be undertaken to develop recommendations for reform,” the report says. Currently, lawmakers are debating a rewrite of the Georgia Juvenile Code, however it is unclear what role the new Oversight Council might play in the process.

Leadership Changes Announced For Governor’s Office for Children and Families

Georgia’s First Lady is expanding her service role to children in the state. Sandra Deal, wife of Gov. Nathan Deal, has agreed to lead the advisory board for the Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOCF). “It’s important for us to concentrate on our children and our families for the sake of our state,” Mrs. Deal said during the news conference led by the governor, along with House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. It was also announced that Katie Joe Ballard has been tapped to take on the role of GOCF’s Executive Director. “I’m excited; I have some big shoes to fill,” said Ballard after the event today in the North Wing of the state capitol.

It’s Official: Governor Deal Signs Juvenile ‘Good Behavior Bill’ Into Law

Lorena Padron, 18, and Maria Calderon, 19, were all smiles this afternoon as they flanked Governor Nathan Deal in his office. With a stroke of a pen, the governor signed HB 373 into law, giving both of them and thousands of others with a track record of good behavior and academic success in Georgia’s Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDCs) and Youth Development Centers (YDCs)  a chance to substantially reduce their time in custody. Known as the “Good Behavior bill,” the measure passed in the 2011 legislative session that ended last month also gives juvenile court judges more discretion. “I feel very good, I’m very happy,” said Padron, after the signing ceremony at the state capitol. “I feel like I can begin my life again, like I’ll be able to go home and help my family.