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Georgia's Juvenile Code

What is the Juvenile Code?

 

The “juvenile code” refers to the Juvenile Court Code of Georgia, codified at Chapter 11 of Title 15 of the Official Code of Georgia.  The juvenile code establishes separate juvenile courts to hear cases involving children.  The juvenile courts deal primarily with deprivation, delinquency and status offense cases.  It was enacted almost 40 years ago in 1971, piece-meal amended several times and has never undergone a full review. 

 

Deprivation cases involve children under the age of 18 whose parents or guardians have been accused of abusing or neglecting them.  Deprived children may be removed from their home and placed with relatives, foster parents or other caretakers while their parents work to correct the problems that led to the children’s removal.  If reunification efforts with the family fail, the code provides for termination of parental rights and placement of children in other permanent placements, such as adoption.

 

Delinquency cases involve children under the age of 17 who are accused of committing acts that would be crimes if committed by an adult.  Not all offenses involving children are tried in juvenile court.  Since 1994, the juvenile code has required that certain serious offenses committed by children age 13 or over to originate in superior court and remain there unless it is transferred to the juvenile court by the district attorney or a superior court judge.  Other cases begin in juvenile court but may be transferred to superior court under certain circumstances.

 

Status offenses are acts that are considered offenses solely because the offender is a child under the age of 18.  The current juvenile code refers to these children as “unruly children.”  Examples of status offenses include truancy, curfew violation and running away.

 

Why Does Georgia’s Juvenile Code Need to Change?

 

It has been almost four decades since Georgia’s juvenile code was passed and it has never undergone a full review.  Experts in the child welfare and juvenile justice fields agree that it is time for a full review.  The judges and lawyers who use the current code every day describe it as “difficult to use, lacking in clarity, and outdated.”  In addition, a broad consensus of juvenile court judges, probation officers, social workers, attorneys and other stakeholders agree that the current code needs, at a minimum, to be modernized and streamlined - GA Appleseed’s Common Wisdom report.  In 2005, the General Assembly recognized that the current code is out of date by passing a resolution calling for a complete overhaul of the juvenile code.  Finally, the current code does not reflect effective research-based best practices and the latest scientific findings on child and adolescent brain development.

 

SB 292:  the Child Protection and Public Safety Act

 

In April 2009, Senate Bill 292, the Child Protection and Public Safety Act was introduced by Senator Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton) and 23 co-sponsors.  SB 292 represents a comprehensive revision to Georgia’s current juvenile code.  It is built on the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the State Bar of Georgia’s Proposed Model Code (PMC). 

 

SB 292 is currently being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee and there are still important public policy considerations that remain to be explored and debated.  Input by stakeholders and the general public is on-going.  JUSTGeorgia is committed to transparency, stakeholder participation and thoughtful, measured juvenile code reform.

 

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