Georgia juvenile court judges banded together this week to protect a program that the state’s juvenile justice officials say is too costly and fails to rehabilitate young offenders. The executive committee of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges of Georgia, which represents 149 judges, this week voted unanimously to oppose a Senate bill that would end the Department of Juvenile Justice’s “short-term program.” Under that program, judges have the power to sentence juveniles – including first-time and nonviolent offenders – to up to 90 days in one of the state’s youth prisons.
“The bill takes away our discretionary sentencing authority,” Robin Nash, president of the council and a DeKalb County juvenile court judge, told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It reduces our authority to just an arbiter of guilt or innocence.” The program is a holdover from Georgia’s crackdown on juvenile crime a decade ago, which created 90-day military style boot camps that ultimately failed to keep young offenders from getting in trouble with the law again. Juvenile Justice officials and child advocates argue that nonviolent offenders, such as trespassers and truants, often wind up incarcerated alongside armed robbers and other violent offenders and learn to be more effective criminals. Those young offenders instead should be placed in alternative treatment programs in their communities, they say.