Georgia To Reconsider Treating Juveniles As Adults

In the early 1990's, Georgia, like many other states, enacted harsh laws providing for juveniles to be charged as adults for a variety of crimes. The Georgia legislature will be reconsidering the law, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in an editorial, urges its repeal.
Since Senate Bill 440 became law nine years ago, the state has sentenced 566 children aged 13 to 17 to mandatory 10-year terms. Two-thirds of those children were sentenced for sex crimes. But the predicted wave of juvenile crime never materialized. The law did not make the streets safer. Instead, it forced teenagers to come of age in adult prisons, where they learned to be more violent and antisocial.
Both prosecutors and public defenders oppose the law, saying it "amounts to giving up on children in their most formative years." These juveniles only remain in a juvenile facility until they are 17. Then they are transferred to the adult state prison, where there is no educational or treatment program designed for them.

A study in Florida showed that the rate of recidivism is higher for juveniles sent to an adult prison rather than a juvenile facility. As one long-time juvenile public defender said, "Putting kids in a system where they have to be vicious to survive is insane."

Aside from the draconian terms of imprisonment, the law does not allow reduced terms for those kids who are first offenders, remorseful, or who agree to cooperate with authorities. How's this for a horror story?
Edward Boyd urged his 16-year-old son, a first-time offender, to tell the truth after he was arrested for armed robbery. Using a BB gun, the teenager and two older youths held up a Milledgeville theater worker carrying a money bag with less than $50 in it.

For admitting the crime, the boy was sentenced to remain in prison until he is 26 years old.

The elder Boyd, a college administrator, says his son, now 17, is in the adult prison at Alto with a 48-year-old and a 28-year-old on either side of him. He sometimes fears for his life.
Two legislators, Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) and Rep. Alisha Thomas (D-Austell), are trying to change the law. The editorial, in supporting repeal of the law, wisely observes,
At the end of next year, the first group of young adults who were sentenced under Georgia's harsh law will be released. Much of what they know about life they have learned from hardened criminals. Instead of protecting the public from dangerous juveniles, SB 440 may be producing hundreds more adult criminals. Lawmakers should repeal it.
We agree. The expertise of the family court and the juvenile court system serves a vital function in our society. It's time for legislators and politicians to learn that America cannot jail itself out of its juvenile crime problem.

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