Officials say adult jails no place for youths

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Working in Augusta's youth detention centers for two decades, Elliott Norman has seen plenty of boys graduate to adult prison.

Like other states, Georgia got swept up in the crackdown on youth crime in the 1990s, with legislators adding "seven deadly sins" to state law that can put teenagers in the adult criminal system with 10-year minimum sentences.

Mr. Norman, now director of the short-term Regional Youth Detention Center where offenders can be held before Superior Court sentencings, said he has mixed feelings about the practice. The worst offenders deserve sanctions, he said, but juvenile facilities focus on rehabilitation and education rather than punishment alone, and shipping them off could wipe out any chance of making them productive citizens.

"The problem is not rehabilitation," Mr. Norman said. "The problem is habilitation, because they don't have the skills they need to know how to act. I'm afraid that once they go to the Department of Corrections, they get taught by hardened criminals."

With a coalition of attorneys and nonprofit groups setting out to rewrite the juvenile justice code, and with new research indicating that incarcerating teens with adults makes them more likely to be re-arrested for violent crimes, some say it's time to rethink how Georgia handles its worst juvenile offenders.

"I think it's excessive and overkill," Georgia Alliance for Children President Rick McDevitt said. "I don't think that kid should get a hug, but I don't think he should go to the Department of Juvenile Justice until he's 17, then go to Reidsville (site of Georgia State Prison). A 17-year-old in Reidsville is nothing but fresh meat."

According to the state Department of Corrections, there are 111 inmates in adult prisons between ages 15 and 17. Most are kept segregated at Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, spokeswoman Mallie McCord said.

Of the state's total inmate population, 781 were sentenced at age 16 or younger, including 184 serving life sentences and two serving life without parole. Those figures include inmates tried as adults even before the "seven deadly sins" went on the books, back when juvenile judges had sole discretion to send certain cases to Superior Court.

Passed in 1994, Senate Bill 440 automatically sends offenders between 13 and 17 years old to Superior Court if they're charged with murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, armed robbery with a gun, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy or aggravated sexual battery. Senate Bill 441 imposed minimum 10-year sentences. Prosecutors, though, have discretion to return the cases to Juvenile Court, where the cases are treated as designated felonies and defendants can be sentenced to as much as five years in a juvenile facility.

A report released last week by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services -- an independent panel of community health experts formed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- recommended against laws transferring youths into the adult system. If trying youths as adults is a strategy to prevent crime, the report said, it's failing miserably because they're more likely to go on to commit violent offenses.

Recent psychological research has found that the human brain is still maturing during the adolescent years and reasoning and judgment are still in flux as late as the mid-20s. Experts say teens are therefore more likely to act impulsively without understanding consequences.

State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, has been trying to undo SB 440 and SB 441 since her election in 2003, and she said she'll introduce altering legislation again next year. One bill would do away with 10-year mandatory sentences and another would give discretion back to juvenile courts as to which teens get tried as adults.

"It's so unjust, the way we're treating children," said Ms. Morgan, a member of the Children and Youth Committee.

Her attempts to change that treatment have yet to reach the House floor. The bills have been watered down, tabled or stuck in committee, even when Democrats controlled the Legislature in 2003.

She's expecting her effort to get a bit more traction this year in light of the high-profile Genarlow Wilson case. Mr. Wilson was 17 years old when he was charged, and the mandatory 10-year sentence he received for consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old sparked public outrage and led the Georgia Supreme Court to order him released.

Another chance to rethink the "seven deadly sins" could come through JUSTGeorgia, a coalition of nonprofits and attorneys that wants to present an overhauled juvenile justice code during the 2009 General Assembly, at the earliest.

Sharon Hill, a former Fulton County Juvenile Court judge and executive director of the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, said she has no doubt that the "seven deadly sins" part of the code will be a hot-button issue. Gripes about youths languishing for six months or more in juvenile jails while awaiting trial in adult court have already come up, she said.

"It is worth the effort," Ms. Hill said, "to do it better than we're currently doing it."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

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patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 12/02/07 - 07:29 am
0
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Warehousing career criminals

Warehousing career criminals in juvi-jails or in adult prisons is the same thing. We're still caging criminals away from society so they can't cause any trouble while they're caged. They're exposed only to the worst elements of society and nothing else is relevant until they're on the street again. Unless juvenile offenders are sent to "reeducation" farms, the most strict kind of military school, and exposed to a way to act and survive in society, then warehousing is just as good in one place as another.

a crazy old man
30
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a crazy old man 12/02/07 - 08:46 am
0
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If you was to put some these

If you was to put some these punk gang wanta be thugs in a real adult prison and start using the chain gangs at a younger age it might strighten some of them out.

nextstep
0
Points
nextstep 12/02/07 - 10:06 am
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Our children went crazy when

Our children went crazy when police, courts and others stated we can no longer spank our children. We have taken control from parents. Now we have a society who are afarid of children and can't do anything with them. Our juvenile courts have very little money for programs to help our children and there is no programs to teach parenting skills to the same people we told as a society it's okay to have a child at 13, 14 15. Now they are parents and clueless. We have cut, cut and cut programs to help our children to save a buck here and there, now we have a society of children out of control. I think we need to relook what we are doing with our children. Bottom line on which end of the bill are we willing to pay? I rather pay now because it is much cheaper to educate a child than keep them in prison. Second we will pay more money to the officers who oversees the prisons, but we are not willing to pay teachers the money to educate our children. We are willing to give the police all the money they need to lock them up and keep them lock up but we are not willing to pay for books, computers, maps.

Sergeant3
0
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Sergeant3 12/02/07 - 10:09 am
0
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As a season officer in the Ga

As a season officer in the Ga department of Correction, throwing away the key is not the answer. We need social programs to help parents and youth cope with life issue. We have parents and youth who do not know how to problem solve. Parent of today say: do as I say not as I do. This is what parents are saying to their kids. We as a county and a society must education our parent on how to manage their youth. Parent must want their children to suceed in life, to be good students,
make a honest effort in any thing they do. This starts with the parent and the childs surrounding. We must put our youth in check, who is the parent and who is the child.

nextstep
0
Points
nextstep 12/02/07 - 10:20 am
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Many parents have a cule what

Many parents have a cule what the inside of a school looks like and could careless if their child gets an education. We have not held our fathers accountable for child support yet they go out and have more children just to become sperm donors all over the state. Many men no longer teach our young men how to be men and we don't have enough men willing to step up to the plate to teach our young men to be men. Grandparents who are 60 -80 are trying to raise their grands because daddy or mom won't for what ever reason. Is locking them up the solution, for some yes for many NO! We need to put our money into summer programs, mentor programs, school programs, intense counseling programs to tear away at all the angery our children have. We need to let them be CHILDREN. Not deal with adult issues like will we have something to eat tonight, will the lights be on when I get home, will our stuff be on the streets today, I need to miss school so I can get the food stamps or welfare check before moms spends it, I need to sell drugs or rob people to help my little sister and brother keep a roof over their head and food in their mouth. Can we go back to when children were children and

nextstep
0
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nextstep 12/02/07 - 10:26 am
0
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not taken on adult issues.

not taken on adult issues. We are now seeing the mess we have made with our children and locking them up is not the solution. Education is the key and instilling strong communities who will demand our children are educated and taken care of when they need help with problems. We no longer have a chocie in the matter. We need to save our children from parents who could careless if they eat, come home or get an education. Pay now or pay later! It's cheaper to pay now than later. I said all I have to say about this matter.

EDUCATION AND YOUTH PROGRAMS ARE THE KEY!

getalife
4
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getalife 12/02/07 - 10:27 am
0
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Education may be the key for

Education may be the key for all prisoners, but regardless of how you house these people and try, you cannot make a person learn anything if they are not willing to listen, behave and learn!!

september 5th
1
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september 5th 12/02/07 - 10:31 am
0
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these kids need to receive

these kids need to receive the same partiality treatment that middle to upper income level kids receive from police (call the parents when they get in trouble) and judges (community service)...in addition, our school system needs to offer technical training instead of the boring stuff that is never used again after graduation (history, science, algebra) unless a student is going to college! teach them reading, how to use a calculator, give them a marketable trade (automotive, cashier, nurising assistant, food service, etc) award them a GED! also it is obvious that the parents are not teaching the children any morals or discipline so the schools should teach proper social skills as a requirement! (this might benefit some of the rude doctors, talk show hosts and celebrities as well!)... then society will see a decrease in crime because the low IQ students will have a purpose and direction!

420Time
0
Points
420Time 12/02/07 - 10:36 am
0
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Patricia this only applies to

Patricia this only applies to those kids who commit crimes w/o any resources. Kids whose families have resources don't face the same sentences as those who don't. Columbia Co Kids showing up at school tribunals lawyered up is a good representation of this. Here are kids who broke the rules but don't want to face the full consequences of their actions. These kids later go on to commit White Collar crimes (eg: Enron, Tyco, Worldcom and such) and still believe they are above the law.

nextstep
0
Points
nextstep 12/02/07 - 10:43 am
0
0
Getalife we have to change

Getalife we have to change the way they think! We have to peal away at all the stuff that has gotten them to this point in their lifes. We have to redirect the way they think. I will use this as a example people who are strung out on drugs or drink to much go through rehab programs. The way they think, and issues that kept them using drugs and drinking are confronted head on. IF you are in a good program the wife and children will attend counseling to heal the whole family and start the path to a new life. They are taught to deal with their issues without drinking or drugs in their life. After the programs there are support groups for the whole family to help keep you on the right path. Why can't we do something like this with our children. If a parent has a child out of control the child will enter a program to help peel away at all the suff, the parent(s) will attend intense counseling and a good support group will be available to suppor the healing process when the program is complete. If it works for AA, NA why not our children?

christian134
1
Points
christian134 12/02/07 - 11:12 am
0
0
The problem with most of

The problem with most of these "children" are they are not children in mind might be in body but not in mind and spirit. Some say it is the way they are raised or lack of raising and that may be true. Now days children are being led to where they can get the 'love' they crave,it just so happens they are receiving it from gangs. Unless people allow God back as head of their lives no amount of rehab will make a difference in these "childrens" lives. God, church, and family is and will always be the three elements that will teach what is morally right which will lead to the right kind of love these children as well as all humans crave.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 12/02/07 - 11:14 am
0
0
BocaRaton, while under some

BocaRaton, while under some circumstances your scenario could happen, so what? What does your comment have to do with the article? You may as well say kids that don't get into trouble don't get treated like kids that do. Or, kids that make good choices have more luck then kids that make bad choices. All kids can have the backing of the Columbia County kids if their parents aren't busy making bad choices so they can afford to buy their kids out of trouble.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 12/02/07 - 11:21 am
0
0
getalife, have you ever seen

getalife, have you ever seen how a strict military school works? The new students take about two weeks to earn the "right" to go to the bathroom unescorted. They have to learn to be polite so they can eat with silverware. They have to be willing to learn to get any privileges. Harsh treatment that gets the attention of socially and intellectually stunted children.

intheknow
16
Points
intheknow 12/02/07 - 11:24 am
0
0
" Buy their kids out of

" Buy their kids out of trouble."Are you saying that is a good thing?

intheknow
16
Points
intheknow 12/02/07 - 11:25 am
0
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I do agree with your 6:29 and

I do agree with your 6:29 and 10:21 posts.

intheknow
16
Points
intheknow 12/02/07 - 11:26 am
0
0
I do agree with you 6:29 and

I do agree with you 6:29 and 10:21 posts.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 12/02/07 - 11:26 am
0
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intheknow, good or bad, it

intheknow, good or bad, it happens. BocaRaton was coming across as jealous of the situation.

sandyjay
1
Points
sandyjay 12/02/07 - 12:06 pm
0
0
I believe what this article

I believe what this article is trying to tell us is that children at this age are still in a stage where we can mold them. It is up to us as a society to shape them while they are still young. What's happening right now is that we let gangs do all the "shaping", so it's no wonder that violent crime is at an all-time high. We missed out on shaping the parents at their critical age, and all the finger-pointing in the world won't change the fact that some parents are not equipped to raise children. The only way to break this cycle and avoid another generation of "thugs" and "gang-bangers" if we step up to the plate and make a difference now. Let's give these youngsters the tools and knowledge, and more importantly the feeling of self-worth needed to become better parents to their children. There are recent initiatives that seem to have an impact, so let's all make a team effort... after all, it takes a village to raise a child.

coco rubio
50
Points
coco rubio 12/02/07 - 01:25 pm
0
0
good to know that patricia

good to know that patricia knows the going ons in military schools too......i lay the blame strictly on the parents and their real involvement in all aspects of their childrens lives....starting from birth until they graduate from college......and spanking isn't the cure all........

mgroothand
5
Points
mgroothand 12/02/07 - 02:22 pm
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0
The children you all speak of

The children you all speak of are mostly unwanted or surprise children. Children having children seldom works out. If a temporary sterilization program were available for children ages 12 - 21, I wonder what percentage of parents would avail them selves of that? The science is available now, is the will?

jack
10
Points
jack 12/02/07 - 04:12 pm
0
0
Legislation holding PARENTS

Legislation holding PARENTS responsible for their children's conduct both in society in gneral and school in particular is the starting point. Let them pay either with jail time or money and maybe they will get the point. Putting children under 18 in adult prisons is not the answer. At 18 they are no longer considered children and answer for their crimes as adults and imprisoned as such. Anyone under 18 should be placed in a youth facility that is tough, educates them and demands they conduct themselves as young human beings rather than street thugs. You need qualified, educated people workig in youth facilities and not the uneducated types you find there now.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 12/02/07 - 04:50 pm
0
0
jack, I think this situation

jack, I think this situation is one of those where we have to teach people to respect knowledge. Legislating total responsibility for your children is similar to legislating morality. It works for outside parameters, but for the fine points, it has to be a matter of choice. Unfortunately, the secular mindset that is so popular today has no point of responsibility to build on. Another dilemma.

getalife
4
Points
getalife 12/02/07 - 11:28 pm
0
0
You can lead a horse to

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink!

so_solutions
0
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so_solutions 12/03/07 - 01:11 pm
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An article in the April issue

An article in the April issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science shows that an adolescent brain is far from fully developed. Full brain development is reached somewhere beyond the age of 18, at least as far as the issue of high-risk behavior is concerned. (Some researchers have suggested that brain development continues until the late 20s.) Research with brain imaging technology shows that before the age of eighteen or nineteen the area of the brain that regulates impulse and emotions is not yet fully developed. The brain system that regulates logic and reasoning develops much earlier. What this means is that teenagers may have a full intellectual understanding of risk and they may have every intention of avoiding a particular high-risk activity, but they don't have the full capacity to control themselves. If their brains are not mature enough to understand the risk, why are we, as a society holding them responsible for taking such risks. We need to become smarter not just tougher, we need to rethink our entire Justice System, as it is, it has failed us and the statistics are proving this everyday. Time for restorative justice folks, pure and simple.

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