Juvenile reform needs update

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Hold kids accountable but protect their rights

By J. Tom Morgan

If we expect our children to respect the law, we need to create laws that hold them accountable while protecting their rights. For more than 40 years, prosecutors in Georgia have worked with a patchwork quilt of juvenile law that hurts the interests of our society and our children.

Now Georgia’s General Assembly has a solution before it that can solve that problem. The Juvenile Justice Reform bill (HB242), introduced last week by Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, represents years of work by numerous statewide organizations and volunteers, including parents, prosecutors, family attorneys, judges and scholars. More than 260 lawyers conducted more than 300 interviews to determine how to create a model law for Georgia. These preparations have been inclusive and transparent; many who want the best for our children had a hand in crafting the proposals. Their effort deserves support from all Georgians, especially those of us in the legal community.

Let me summarize some reasons to support it.

Children have rights, but often they or their parents don’t understand them. Changes in the bill would require that children have appropriate representation at every stage of proceedings. We must protect our children even as we prosecute them.

“Status” offenders would be handled differently. A “status” offense is an offense simply because someone under the age of 18 was involved. Some examples are breaking curfew, truancy or running away from home. Proposed changes already embraced by numerous states encourage using community resources to address the underlying cause of a child’s behavior. This saves money by avoiding unnecessary detention and leads to more appropriate responses to offenses. Equally important, it helps avoid the tragic path from juvenile offenses to adult crime.

Another tool strengthened by HB242 is mediation. Although some juvenile courts in Georgia have mediation programs, they are not used regularly for the resolution of delinquency cases. Detailed provisions of the reform bill provide a framework for expanding the use of mediation and ensure that the victim is given the right to participate.

The Pew Center on the States, a nonpartisan research organization, recently examined challenges facing Georgia’s juvenile justice system and presented its findings to the Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Council. Among the findings: The majority of offenses committed by Georgia youth are non-violent, and the recidivism rate among youth who spend time in youth detention centers is increasing. HB242 addresses this reality with changes based on research and best practices that show states that take appropriate steps before incarceration see better results for children and communities.

Reforms proposed for Georgia provide more fairness to children in trouble and more assurances that judges can have adequate information and the flexibility to act with discretion. In the long run, Georgia will save money with an updated system that balances the pursuit of justice with the protection of individual rights and community interests.

J. Tom Morgan, former DeKalb County district attorney, is author of “Ignorance Is No Defense: A Teenager’s Guide to Georgia Law.”

2 comments Add your comment

Jesus Christ crushes NWO, DBMs

February 15th, 2013
8:29 pm

Prior to integration in the south, we, African Americans, had some of the most accountable men, women, and children in the United States. So did other groups too. During the 40s 50’s and 60s, 85% of African American women were married. We weren’t concerned with the rights of children because the law pertained primarily to the lawless.

Before Dr. Asa G. Hilliard of Georgia State University died, he often reminisced of the second to none high schools that he and other African Americans attended in the 40s 50s and 60s through-out the south. I second the motion. But as we speak, the perverted NWO integrationist crowd and their DBMs are asking how we can improve our children and schools. LOL

I hope my comment is moderate enough to be posted.



February 15th, 2013
7:21 pm

As the years go by, juveniles commit more and more heinous crimes. The reason, because society has become so liberal that instead of punishing them, society pats them on the back and says it’s ok because you come from a poor background and do not know any better.

The fix is very simple, put their a&&es in a real jail/prison and let them experience Bubba. However, I fear that won’t fix anything as prison in the U.S. is a joke compared to the rest of the world because we don’t want to tread on their “rights”.