Why Revise the Juvenile Code, and Why Now?
ICM has become a very active partner in the JUSTGeorgia Coalition, a collaborative of child advocacy organizations working to overhaul Georgia's antiquated Juvenile Code.
"We hope every ICM member will become an advocate for passage of the legislation for the revised Code in the 2009 Georgia legislative session," said Pamela Perkins, ICM's Coordinator. "In order for that to happen, the Code has to be a topic in this year's election. The November election is just four months away, so we must go to work quickly to make people aware of the Juvenile Code and its importance in the lives of their children," Pamela said.
The current code, enacted in 1971, is largely out of date; is a "patchwork quilt of amendments;" and is no longer able to guarantee fair or consistent treatment for children who enter the system. The Juvenile Code applies to children who need protection from abusive or neglectful families, who are consistently truant or otherwise "unruly," or who have broken a law.
The JUSTGeorgia coalition began as a joint project of Georgia Appleseed, Voices for Georgia's Children and The Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic of the Emory University School of Law. Leslie Gresham, project director for JUSTGeorgia, says that JUSTGeorgia seeks to build a better juvenile code to help youth and children grow to be successful, participatory members of society. JUSTGeorgia was established with philanthropic funding from both the Sapelo Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta. ICM, one of the first partners in the coalition, also received funding from the Sapelo Foundation to spread the advocacy voice for a revised juvenile code throughout Georgia.
Below is the first of a series of educational articles about Georgia's Juvenile Code.
Why Revise the Juvenile Code, and Why NOW?
"A completely new code is of utmost need. The current code was enacted in 1971," JUSTGeorgia's Leslie Gresham said. "I think a lot has changed with families-the way we view children's crimes, the drug culture, even what we consider to be a typical family has changed. You have children at 13, 14 and 15 who can be tried as an adult, yet cannot legally make decisions as an adult.
"One problematic aspect of the code is that it is not uniform. It's been amended to so many times that it is difficult to see what the law really is. Children are ending up in the system who do not belong there. And we need more options for treating the children that are there. We need [the code] to be more rehabilitative," she said.
In March 2008, the State Bar of Georgia Young Lawyers Division Juvenile Law Committee completed a model code document for Georgia. According to the executive summary of the new model code, the proposed document "represents a comprehensive revision of the current juvenile code to achieve the goal of creating a user-friendly, consistent and comprehensible document. The drafting process was guided by three overarching themes: developing a new organizational structure, maintaining stylistic consistency throughout the code and incorporating substantive revisions that reflect best practices."
Now that the model code is available for review, JUSTGeorgia, with help from ICM, is working tirelessly holding town hall meetings and information sessions. They are reviewing comments and feedback in order to shape the model code into a legislative packet to be submitted during the 2009 legislative session.
When asked how the new code would affect Georgia's residents in five to 10 years, Leslie replied she would like to see a more holistic approach to helping Georgia's children. "I would like to see a juvenile court system in which [the children] are getting due process- where the child is represented and where the parent is represented. I would also like to see the court be more respected by people as a whole. People look at this as a baby court. But I would like for people to realize that this is one of the most important courts. You'll find that most people in adult courts came through juvenile court. Once we can tackle it in juvenile court, it will make an impact on the adult court."
For more information about the model code, visit www.justgeorgia.org. The Code itself is quite long, but the Executive Overview and the Introductions to each of the main Sections of the code give the broad understanding of the code. Also look at "What Changes."
(This article contains information reproduced with permission from the Community Foundation June Newsletter.)