JUSTGeorgia: Building Justice and Safety for Children
JUSTGeorgia is a statewide juvenile justice coalition created in 2006. Georgia Appleseed, along with Voices for Georgia's Children and the Barton Child Law and Policy Center (Emory Law School), were the founding lead partners of this massive effort to advocate for change to Georgia's juvenile code and the underlying social service systems to better serve Georgia's children and promote safer communities. The Coalition's original goal was achieved when the first comprehensive rewrite of Georgia's juvenile code in 40 years was signed into law on May 2, 2013, after unanimous support in both the Georgia House and Senate.
At the beginning of the JUSTGeorgia project, Georgia Appleseed recognized that a just and democratic juvenile code for Georgia would need more than excellent research and draftsmanship. It would need to reflect the values of our community. And so we started asking questions, gathering ideas, and weighing opinions from Georgians all over the state about how to improve the current code. For over a year, through more than 6,500 volunteer hours, and across ten Judicial Districts, hundreds of lawyers and other professionals from thirteen law firms interviewed parents, children and young adults, members of law enforcement, child welfare workers, mental health providers, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, educators, business leaders, probation officers, and other stakeholders.
We reaped, from more than 300 individuals, common practical wisdom about "how we do things in Georgia." This community wisdom helped inform the original legislation first submitted to Georgia's General Assembly in 2009. The purpose of the new legislation was to reform the old juvenile code, first passed almost 40 years earlier, and create a new code incorporating the latest in law reform and scientific understanding to govern how deprivation (now dependency) and delinquency are handled, and assist children in need of services to get back on the path to becoming productive citizens. We've gathered what we heard into a comprehensive Statewide Summary Report, ten Judicial District Reports, and an Executive Summary. To access the full array of reports, click here.
After the statewide stakeholder input was collected, the new legislation was subjected to careful vetting by many additional stakeholders at all levels of government. A new Governor was elected who had spent part of his early career as a Georgia juvenile court judge and who, as a result, was familiar with the issues arising from an outdated juvenile code. As this Governor's work on criminal justice reform progressed, it became clear that comprehensive criminal justice reform needed to include juvenile justice reform. As the Governor's agenda took hold, the path for the legislation became clear. Ultimately, Georgia's new juvenile code was passed by the Georgia General Assembly by unanimous vote in both the House and the Senate and was signed into law on May 2, 2013.
Georgia Appleseed continues its work as a leader of the JUSTGeorgia coalition. Continuing efforts to seek remaining reforms the age of juvenile court jurisdiction (Georgia is one of only 9 states in the nation that still treats all 17 years olds as adults for their crimes) and the so-called "SB 440" treatment of children age 13 or older as "adults" if they are charged with one of the seven "deadly sins." In addition to continuing legislative reform efforts, Georgia Appleseed's JUSTGeorgia work is focused on the intersection of juvenile justice and public education, which is more fully described in Georgia Appleseed's Effective Student Discipline: Keeping Kids in Class project work, with particular focus on improving school climate through the implementation of Positive Behavior and Interventions Support (PBIS) and reducing Out-of-School Suspensions (OSS) through the use of Restorative Justice alternatives, which will not only reduce racial disproportionality, but will also correlate with increased graduation rates for all students -- the ultimate goal being the conversion of the School Exclusion to Prison Pipeline to the School to Opportunity Pipeline.
The leadership team expanded in 2015 to include the Interfaith Children's Movement, and it expanded again in the fall of 2016 when the Truancy Intervention Project, Latin American Association, and Next Level Community Development Center joined.