A testy exchange between two Georgia lawmakers over conditions in a state prison portends a legislative fight over the treatment of juvenile offenders, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. State Rep. Alan Powell of Hartwell and Sen. Vincent Fort of Atlanta, both Democrats, traded pointed words over Lee Arrendale State Prison, which incarcerates the state’s youngest convicted felons. Fort organized a public hearing last month on conditions at Arrendale after the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta documented a number of sexual assaults, beatings, and other violence among inmates at the prison. Some legislators who attended the hearing have tried unsuccessfully to repeal laws that allow prosecutors in Georgia to try children as young as 13 as adults. Arrendale holds 1,200 inmates, half of whom are under age 23. It also holds 12 inmates under 17, including a 15-year-old.
State Rep. Alisha Thomas said that by tossing juveniles into violent adult prisons for mandatory sentences, “all we’re doing is making them better criminals. We’re not doing anything to rehabilitate them and to make them productive citizens.” Among those who testified at the hearing was the family of Wayne Boatwright Jr., an 18-year-old inmate strangled in his cell in February. Rep. Powell accused Fort and the other lawmakers the hearing of having “personal agendas” on Arrendale. Fort replied: “I resent your statement that the hearing was fueled by ‘personal agendas.’ ”