The Story of an Armed Robbery and a Second Chance, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part opinion piece written by Judge Teske. Part one appeared in this space Tuesday. James and Matthew — the boys who robbed Henry, a pizza deliveryman, at gun point — stood in court telling him they were sorry as they wiped the tears from their eyes. With my permission, Henry walked to the bar, reached across and shook the boys’ hands, and said in a soft voice, “I forgive you.” Henry also had tears.

Through Her Eyes, Girls and Women in the Juvenile Justice System

It was like a giant switchboard, the kind you see in 30s and 40s movies, a bevy of operators plugging in a crisscross of wires, taking calls, making connections, a cacophony of chatter. That image came to me recently as I walked into the lobby of the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. The only difference was that the conversations filling the hall were about the same thing: girls and young women in the juvenile justice system. We were there — teachers, social workers, lawyers, mentors, youth workers, college students and professors — for the Through Her Eyes conference sponsored by the Center for Human Development, a regional social services agency. This annual gathering, now in its seventh year, came about when a number of professionals expressed concern over the increased number of at-risk young females in “the system,” and the need for “best practices” to help this growing population.

Razor wire fence borders the Metro Regional Youth Detention center in Atlanta, Ga. JJIE Staff, 2010. File photo.

County Police Called to Quell Riot at Georgia YDC

Operations have returned to normal at the DeKalb County Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC) after local law enforcement were called in to secure the facility following a riot this past Sunday. More than half of the 64 juvenile inmates were involved in the disturbance, according to a report by WSB’s Richard Belcher.

This is the second time in less than six months county law enforcement have been called on to regain control of the RYDC. In May, a DeKalb County SWAT unit was called in after what was called a “group disturbance” by then DJJ spokesperson Scheree Moore.

In 2011, at least two similar incidents occurred at Eastman RYDC near Macon, Ga. In February, outside law enforcement from two nearby counties were called in to help regain control and return the 60 inmates involved to their cells.

DJJ officials declined to comment, only saying that the investigation is ongoing, but Atlanta’s WSB TV was able to piece together a timeline of what happened in the facility on the afternoon of Oct. 2 through a combination of police reports and a 911 call from an official working at the time of the riot.

The most recent incident was the largest such disturbance reported to date, involving at least 34 of the 64 youth held at the facility, according to the 911 call.

Also in May, a murder suspect escaped from the DeKalb RYDC. The 16-year-old escapee was apprehended later the same week, but the circumstances surrounding the escape are still unclear.

Citing budgetary constraints the DJJ closed two RYDC facilities last spring, although neither of the closed facilities were near Eastman or DeKalb. Twenty RYDCs remain active throughout the state. In addition there are six long-term Youth Development Campuses in Georgia.

Lack of Data From States Hinders Implementation of Effective Juvenile Justice

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released a report this month that discusses juvenile transfers to adult court and the problem of gathering reliable information about this practice. The authors give a brief history of the practice of transferring youth, and an overview of the wide variety of laws and practices that states use when trying kids as adults. Several of their conclusions stand out. The practice of transferring youth to criminal court through anything other than a case-by-case court order grew nationally from the mid-1980s until the mid 1990s. Laws allowing for judicial transfer have existed since nearly the beginning of the separation of juvenile and adult cases in the 19th century.

Massachusetts Bill Targets Assaults within Juvenile Facilities

Massachusetts lawmakers are outraged following reports that the state’s Department of Youth Services (DYS) refuses to report assaults on staffers by juvenile offenders. A new bill before the Legislature could change all that, according to a report by the Boston Herald. The measure would require  DYS officials to report all assaults on staff members to prosecutors or state law enforcement in order to pursue charges. State Rep. Thomas Golden (D), the author of the legislation, said DYS officials have even tried to convince staff members not to report violent assaults to police. A spokeswoman for the agency said they were not aware of any such instances.

DJJ Escapes Draconian Budget Cuts, But Still Faces New Belt Tightening

Governor Nathan Deal’s first State of the State address is making headlines for his promise to end teacher furloughs, prioritize K-12 education, and rescue HOPE scholarships.  A close reading of his new budget plans should also give the 4,200 employees of the Department of Juvenile Justice a little breathing room, but not much. As we reported last week, the agency has already lost more than 20% of its funding in the last 3 years, and doing more with less.  While the cutting continues, it won’t be as severe as it might have been.  Here are the numbers for both the amended 2011 budget and the 2012 budget:

The amended FY2011 budget calls for 4% in reductions, totaling $10.5 Million. Eleven full time positions will be sliced agency wide, but nine of those are currently vacant. Youth Detention Centers face about $3.3Million in cuts, including:

Hiring freeze to save $1.25 Million.

Babysitter Murder Case to Stay in Juvenile Court

The 11 year old babysitter accused of killing a toddler in Sandy Springs will face charges in juvenile court, not adult court.  As expected, the Fulton County D.A.’s office made the only decision possible under Georgia Law.  The 11 year old is too young to be charged as an adult, despite public outrage over the death of 2 year old Zeyda White. The toddler somehow received a fatal blow to the head while in the care of the pre-teen babysitter last Saturday night. The youngster appeared in juvenile court Wednesday for an initial hearing and remains in Metro’s Youth Detention Center.  In general, juvenile court cases move through the system much faster than cases in adult court.   As the case unfolds, it will be heard by a juvenile court judge, not a jury.  The child will be represented by a defense attorney.  If found guilty, the child may be sent to a secure detention center for up to five years, with possible 12-month extensions at the discretion of the judge and the Department of Juvenile Justice, until the age of 21. Also reporting this story: