Like many other states, Georgia reacted to the rise of youth crime in the early 1990s by getting tough on juvenile offenders.
But in his first-ever report concerning youth violence, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher sought to dispel several myths about concerning juvenile crime this week, one being that trying juveniles as adults reduces repeat offenses.
"Juveniles transferred to adult criminal court have significantly higher rates of reoffending and a greater likelihood of committing subsequent felonies than youths who remain in the juvenile justice system," stated the report, released Wednesday.
Georgia changed its law regarding juvenile offenders in 1994, just after the rate of violent youth crimes in the country peaked.
The law gave the adult Superior Court system jurisdiction over offenders between the ages of 13 and 17 who were arrested for specific violent offenses.
One of those offenses - commonly referred to as the "seven deadly sins" - is aggravated sodomy, which Richmond County authorities charged a 14-year-old boy with last week.
Last year, Richmond County prosecuted 14 juveniles in Superior Court for one or more of the seven crimes, District Attorney Danny Craig said.
Unless the district attorney decides to transfer a case to Juvenile Court, which can be done before an indictment, the juvenile faces a trial just like an adult would.
The other offenses that automatically bypass Juvenile Court are murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and armed robbery with a firearm.
Since the law was enacted about six years ago, more than 3,300 juveniles in Georgia have been arrested for one of those offenses and charged as adults, according to the Juvenile Advocacy Division of the Georgia Indigent Defense Council.
"Prior to '94, there were not certain crimes that were considered automatic (for Superior Court)," said Susan Teaster, the juvenile division director for the council. "What prompted the move was the information being released that the juvenile crime rate was increasing, particularly in violent crime."
Ms. Teaster said the division is tracking the number of juveniles moving through adult courts to see if it is deterring repeat offenses.
"(The state law has) not been enacted long enough to see exactly how much it affects future recidivism rates," she said.
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.
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