Home News Center Georgia Passes Sweeping Revision of Juvenile Code

Georgia Passes Sweeping Revision of Juvenile Code

May 16, 2013
Zoe Schein

juvenile-justice-reform_Georgia-capitol-domeOne of NJJN's member organizations, JUSTGeorgia, had a huge victory this month when Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 242—a complete rewrite of Georgia's juvenile code—into law.

The revisions contain significant juvenile justice reforms, including alternatives to detention for youth who have committed status offenses or who are classified as low-to-medium risk, increased emphasis on risk assessment, increased attorney presence throughout the entire sequence of juvenile proceedings, and a reclassification of designated felonies to include a separate “Class A” and "Class B," so that less serious offenses carry shorter maximum sentences.

Crafting the bill was a years-long and often painstaking process, says Polly McKinney of JUSTGeorgia. Striving for maximum transparency and stakeholder input, JUSTGeorgia advocates spent hundreds of hours collecting feedback, often working line-by-line in a room of up to fifty people.

McKinney commented, “Trying to get everybody on the same page--prosecutors, child advocates, judges. It takes a long time. And it takes good will. You hope that every piece of legislation you make as an advocate is able to incorporate the good will of everyone.” In the end, such efforts paid off: the bill passed both Georgia’s House and Senate unanimously, and was signed into law by Governor Deal on May 2, 2013. “To me,” says McKinney, “that’s such a beautiful legislative victory, because everybody voted yes.”

The rewrite, says Julia Neighbors, former project manager at JUSTGeorgia, represents a crucial shift in the thinking that informs juvenile justice policy. With the help of data from the Pew Center on the States and the Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Council, drafters found that detaining youth was both costly and ineffective. "So we said, 'Let’s figure out a way to get the outcomes we want and keep kids in the community, so if we do detain youth, it should be only the highest-risk [youth],’” says Neighbors. “So that’s been a real shift in philosophy.” 

McKinney echoes this optimism in the changing logic behind juvenile justice legislation. “People are starting to see the importance of prevention. We have tons of correction, but the prevention side is where it needs to be happening. That’s how we can help these kids become productive adults. It’s a change from a model that deals with ‘bad kids’ to one that deals with ‘kids in trouble.’”

>>Click to read JUSTGeorgia’s full summary of the HB 242 reforms.


Photo: SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent), under Creative Commons license.

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