GA Chief Justice Seeks Juvenile Justice Reform, More Authority for Judges


The chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court called for extensive reform to the juvenile justice system, a prelude to the introduction of sweeping legislation meant to improve the state's treatment of its youngest offenders, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Chief Justice Carole Hunstein said too many of the wrong kids are being locked up, and the state needs to approach the problem differently. She urged legislators to divert less-dangerous juvenile offenders away from lockups and into community programs, as well as address the minors' substance abuse issues, problems at home, and other challenges faced on the street and at school. “They're not all thugs,” Clayton County Chief Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske said of the young offenders who have appeared before him. “A lot of them have made very, very stupid decision as they are being juveniles. I think we need to slow down and realize this and take a better look.”

A pending bill allows judges to send non-violent juveniles to community based-programs instead of one of the state's seven youth development campuses, which are high-security lockups. It also calls for trimming the lists of “designated felonies,” which are more serious crimes that automatically lead to incarceration. That would give judges the authority choose alternatives to high-security detention. “No one is urging Georgia to become soft on crime,” Hunstein said in her State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature yesterday. “Some of our juvenile offenders have committed heinous, violent crimes and must be treated as adults and locked away from society. But they are the minority. For our citizens' sake, we must do better with the majority. The fact is, many of our juveniles deserve second chances.”

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