Juvenile Code Assessment Project
In 2006, Georgia Appleseed, the Barton Child Law & Policy Center, and Voices for Georgia’s Children formed JUSTGeorgia, a collaboration of nonprofits created to secure a comprehensive rewrite of Georgia’s 40-year-old Juvenile Code. A critical early step in this effort was a statewide interview process managed by Georgia Appleseed in which volunteer lawyers interviewed hundreds of juvenile justice and child welfare stakeholders. Pro bono attorneys asked three key questions of each interviewee: (1) “what works [in the then current juvenile code]?”, (2) “what doesn’t work?”, and, most importantly, (3) “if you could, how would you fix it?”
The results were summarized in a report called Common Wisdom: Making the Case for a New Georgia Juvenile Code. This report became a key starting point in a multi-year, transparent, inclusive process that resulted in the unanimous passage in 2013 of Georgia’s new juvenile code, which went into effect on January 1, 2014.
Fast forward to today: A new effort, the Juvenile Code Assessment Project, will again rely upon volunteer attorneys, trained on the new code’s reforms, with the ultimate goal being to learn from stakeholders their insights about the code’s impact now that it has been in effect three years. In the spring of 2017, pro bono attorneys will cover all of Georgia’s ten Judicial Districts interviewing juvenile court judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, government agency leaders, case workers, child advocates, guardians ad litem, court appointed special advocates and others to secure their critical input.
The passage of the new Juvenile Code was an important part of Governor Nathan Deal’s overall criminal justice reform initiative, elevating Georgia’s national reputation for smart reform in this area. The 2018 legislative session will be the final session of Governor Deal’s two terms. This Project’s findings are expected to provide helpful guidance in 2018 if additional legislation is needed, and may also help assure adequate funding of the code’s reforms. It is the intention of this Project that Georgia benefit from appropriately funded, common sense juvenile justice reform, implemented with fidelity throughout the state, that will promote public safety and protect the rights of all Georgia’s children, youth, families and communities.