Concerns about city's youth discussed

Michael Snyder/Staff
Sen. Ed Tarver (second from left) and State Court Judge David Watkins (right) talk with attendees of the luncheon. Provisions for grandparents raising their grandchildren were discussed.

Growing concerns about Augusta's youth topped the list of issues discussed Wednesday at the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History's senior luncheon.

A panel of legal experts and lawmakers spoke to the group about issues affecting Georgians, such as the growing number of juvenile criminals and the rights of grandparents.

State Sen. Ed Tarver, D-Augusta, spoke to seniors and others at the luncheon about provisions for grandparents who raise their grandchildren.

"We're looking at modifying legislation so that those grandparents will have access to public resources in their time of need while taking on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren," he said.

Juanita Williams taught in Augusta and Richmond County schools for close to 40 years. She came to the luncheon to see what State Court Judge David Watkins had to say about rehabilitating Augusta's youth.

"Young people are still a concern to me, so I wondered if they found other ways to correct them besides making them do time," Mrs. Williams said.

Judge Watkins spoke about the challenge of dealing with more and more youth offenders.

He emphasized the importance of "creative sentencing," which involves putting young offenders in do-right programs, in some cases, rather than incarcerating them.

Youths made up about 15 percent of Georgia courts' caseload in the late 1990s when Judge Watkins became a judge, he said.

Now 40 percent of the more than 35,000 statewide cases deal with young defendants.

"We have reached somewhat of a crisis stage," he said. "Judges now are wearing many hats due to the amount of young people we work with."

Most of the youths prosecuted are repeat offenders, Judge Watkins said.

Preventive school programs have been key in keeping youth out of Judge Watkins' courtroom, he said.

"In order to really get to them, they have to see it, hear it, smell it and almost feel it," Judge Watkins said.

"We try to get to them before they get to us."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.