A national advocacy group is pushing a petition campaign for passage of a new juvenile code in Georgia. Change.org, a national website that provides daily news and information about social justice issues, is circulating an online petition in support of SB 292. According to the website, 38 people have signed up in support. Among many issues, the state bill focuses on:
Keeping kids tried as adults in juvenile detention centers until they turn 17, rather than putting them in adult prison. (Supporters say this will help protect incarcerated children from being victimized behind bars).
Anyone passing by room 450 at Georgia’s capitol on Monday probably thought lawmakers were talking about facial parts. The Senate Judiciary Committee was actually discussing CHINS—the acronym for Children in Need of Services—an important concept in the rewrite of the state’s juvenile code. In the proposed code, expected to be introduced when the legislature convenes in 2011, the term would replace language in the current code about “status offenders.” The change is more than semantic. Status offenses are acts that would not be crimes for adults, such as truancy or running away from home. Children who commit such offenses in Georgia can be classified as “unruly” or “ungovernable,” and under the current code can be detained “for days, weeks or even months in secure detention facilities,” according to a report prepared for the Senate committee by the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory University School of Law.
What is Georgia’s definition of a “child” when it comes to crime? The issue came up Monday at a hearing of the state senate’s Juvenile Code Re-write Subcommittee, which is dealing with a proposed new juvenile code expected to be introduced during the next legislative session. Georgia law says a child who is the victim of abuse or neglect becomes an adult at 18. Deprivation cases are handled in Juvenile Court. The same person, if accused of an act of delinquency, is considered an adult at 17. The case goes to adult court. Now a suggestion is on the table to split the issue by raising the age to 18 in misdemeanor cases but leaving it at 17 for felonies.