ATLANTA — Emails show that a Georgia juvenile justice official was angered by a writer’s coverage of a bill that would keep some reports of problems in juvenile lockups secret, and she worried that news coverage could derail the legislation.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained several emails showing the behind-the-scenes efforts to get the bill passed. The emails were obtained under Georgia’s open records laws.
“That SOB may ruin this for us,” Department of Juvenile Justice legislative liaison Carol Jackson wrote in a March 21 email about a story posted on an Internet site that reports on ethics in government.
“I have been working ON the Chm (chairman) all day. He is slick. If this article gets picked up by major news we may be dead in the water.”
Asked about the email, Jackson told The Associated Press on Monday that agency officials were “trying to do whatever is best for everyone who is concerned.”
“All we’re trying to do is protect our children and serve our children,” she said.
The bill would make certain reports about investigations within juvenile facilities a “state secret.”
Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, expressed concerns about the legislation in a letter to state Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold. Manheimer said there were good reasons for withholding the names of juveniles, but classifying all the other information as state secrets is a bad idea.
“Closing off the information from public consumption and review only makes the problems of the juveniles and children worse,” Manheimer said. “We can’t fix the problem if we don’t know about it.”
But agency officials say the legislation is needed to protect the anonymity of youth who are willing to be confidential informants inside the state’s juvenile facilities. They say information that’s made public could put them in danger if other offenders find out they gave key information to investigators.
“Even with the witness names redacted for the public on the outside, it’s not hard for other juveniles on the inside to figure out who among the witnesses made statements to connect them to illegal acts and prosecutions,” the agency said in a statement.
The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 69 on Feb. 20. It remains in a House committee and could be taken up next year.