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Juvenile Justice Reforms Signed into Law

DEal-YouthDALTON, Ga. (Thursday, May 2, 2013) — Gov. Nathan Deal today signed into law sweeping reform to Georgia’s juvenile justice code that will help drive long-term social and economic impact in Georgia and position the state as a role model for change around the country.

 Reforms approved are the result of the commitment of Gov. Nathan Deal and key legislators to update the state’s antiquated juvenile laws. The legislation represents years of work by numerous statewide organizations and volunteers, including parents, prosecutors, family attorneys, judges and scholars. The Governor signed the legislation into law at a ceremony this morning at the Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center in Dalton.

 “There is no doubt that the reforms contained in the new law will serve all Georgians,” said Rep. Wendell Willard, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the legislation. “Our children will be treated more justly and effectively while community interests in crime prevention will continue to be served.  I’m personally gratified to have played a role in this statewide effort, and want to thank all those who worked so hard on behalf of the best interests of Georgia’s children.”

 The legislation, which passed unanimously in the state House and Senate, will modernize Georgia’s outdated system in several important ways:

  • It supports programs that focus on early intervention and effective alternatives to detention.  The state spends about $90,000 a year to put a single youth in a detention center.  Because about 65 percent of those released from Department of Juvenile Justice detention reoffend within three years, advocates for reform have long argued that there are more effective ways to intervene with children who get in trouble.
  • It thoroughly upgrades two specific areas of the law. Status offenders are those children who skip school, run away from home or violate curfew.  These are offenses only because of the age of the children.  The new law would limit the circumstances under which these children would be held in a detention center and expand the services to help them find a path in life other than crime.  What’s more, in “delinquency” cases, which can involve serious offenses, the courts will be given wider latitude to determine appropriate next steps for each child.

 Leaders of JUSTGeorgia, a statewide coalition working since 2006 to update the juvenile code, called the signing of the new law a pivotal moment for Georgia’s children and families.

 “Georgia’s new approach to juvenile law has the potential to have positive impact on generations to come,” said Sharon Hill, executive director of Georgia Appleseed, one of three lead partners in the JUSTGeorgia coalition. “This is truly a turning point for our children.”

Download the press release


About JUSTGeorgia: JUSTGeorgia is a statewide juvenile justice coalition created in 2006.  Its purpose is to advocate for change to Georgia’s juvenile code and the underlying social service systems to better serve Georgia’s children and promote safer communities. The lead partners that formed JUSTGeorgia are Georgia Appleseed, The Barton Child Law and Policy Center of the Emory University School of Law, and Voices for Georgia’s Children. Their efforts were launched by philanthropic funding. www.JUSTGa.org.

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