A former Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) corrections officer was arrested Wednesday for alleged sex crimes that occurred while she was a staff member at the Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC) in Gainesville.
Ardith Brown faces charges of felony child molestation and sexual assault against persons in custody. Brown was removed from duty at the RYDC and suspended in January after other corrections officers alerted a DJJ Safety and Security Team to evidence of officer misconduct during an unannounced inspection. She was terminated February 2 following a DJJ internal investigation into allegations Brown had an inappropriate relationship with a 14-year-old RYDC resident in DJJ custody.
The Gainesville RYDC was the first DJJ secure facility to receive a surprise facility inspection after Commissioner L. Gale Buckner began a system-wide security sweep crackdown following a homicide at the Augusta YDC campus last November.
“As a result of our surprise inspections at all 27 Georgia juvenile detention centers, we’ve observed many of our Juvenile Corrections Officers become more diligent in monitoring youth activity at all our facilities,” said Buckner in an statement released late Wednesday.
She added, “We’re wasting no time recommending criminal prosecution wherever evidence is found and prosecution is warranted to remove officer misconduct from our ranks and protect Georgia’s youth in detention.”
Buckner predicted more misconduct violations would come to light as the statewide internal investigation continues. She also promised more prosecutions.
“We want this action to serve as a strong deterrent,” she said, “and we welcome this opportunity to help local authorities prosecute these crimes against the children in our care and custody.
Lawmakers in 16 states have proposed a so-called Caylee’s Law to prosecute parents who do not report their child missing quickly enough. The proposals come as a response to public outrage over the acquittal of Casey Anthony in the death of her 2-year-old daughter. An online petition calling for the law has received well over 1 million signatures.
The new measure would make it a felony to wait to report a missing child for more than 24 hours. It would also make it a felony to wait to report the death of a child for more than an hour.
Not everyone thinks the law is necessary.
“The proposal seems like a knee-jerk overreaction to a very sad situation,” Denver attorney Dan Recht said of the proposal in Colorado in an interview with KDVR. He added that it was “crazy” to make it a felony to fail to notify the authorities in one hour.
States considering similar laws include Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia and New Jersey among others.
Casey Anthony failed to report the death of her daughter for more than a month, telling friends Caylee was with a nanny. After Anthony’s mother alerted authorities about her missing grandchild, Casey told investigators Caylee was kidnapped by the nanny.
Casey Anthony was convicted on four misdemeanor counts of lying to investigators.
An amended law that took effect July 1 made Mississippi the latest state to rethink how youth under the age of 18 are handled in criminal court. The new measure prevents most 17-year-old misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenders from being tried as adults. Certain felonies including rape, murder and armed robbery may still warrant charges in the adult court system.
Two other states, Connecticut and Illinois, passed similar reforms earlier this year bringing the national total to 39 states that view juveniles as any individual below the age of 18, according to a report issued last week by the Campaign for Youth Justice.
“This is a good news report.” Liz Ryan, director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, -- a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on the issue -- told USA Today. “This really shows that there is a turning tide in the way states are treating kids in the juvenile justice system.”
Some juvenile advocates consider the amendment a positive change in the treatment of youthful offenders, but Mississippi law enforcement and juvenile officials worry it could adversely impact an already over-burdened Youth Court system.
“It’s going to create a tremendous pressure on our juvenile justice system with no increase in resource,” Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso told the (Biloxi-Gulfport) Sun Herald. “So, it’s creating pressure on a system that’s already pressed.”
Legislators in Mississippi amended the law following state budget cuts that reduced bed space and maximum detention times, among other things, in juvenile facilities. But officials failed to allocate additional funds to the Youth Court system to deal with added expenses and growing number of offenders.
It costs states more to incarcerate offenders in juvenile than adult facilities due to health, counseling and other obligations, but juvenile inmates tend to have a lower recidivism rate than their counterparts in the adult system, according to the same Campaign for Youth Justice report.
Nationally, the United States has witnessed a five-year trend of states rethinking how juveniles are handled in the criminal justice system in large part due to research in adolescent brain development.
Crimes committed by minors aren’t always done with malice because they can’t fully distinguish right from wrong, Gina Vincent, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told JJIE at a brain development conference in early May.
Only 11 states, including Georgia, still try offenders younger than 18 in adult courts for nonviolent offenses. Roughly 250,000 offenders under the age of 18 are prosecuted in adult courts annually, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice report.
When Andrew Peterman of Idaho first came into the juvenile justice system at age 15, he did not know that schizophrenia was driving his anger, which in turn was resulting in arrests and illicit drug and alcohol usage. In time, thanks to juvenile detention and treatment for his schizophrenia he has been able to straighten out his life.
In fact, he has come so far on his journey that the Coalition for Juvenile Justice awarded him the 2011 National CJJ Spirit of Youth Award to "recognize and celebrate a young adult...who has made great strides through involvement with the juvenile justice system, overcome personal obstacles and is today making significant contributions to society." In the video below by Leonard Witt, Peterman tells of his journey through crime, drugs, schizophrenia and rehabilitation. See the video time splits below.
- Introduction, Spirit of Youth Award: 00:00
- Trouble begins at age 15, no coping skills 00:50
- At 17 tried as an adult 01:20
- Three felonies, classified as "persistent violator" 01:50
- Avoiding automatic five extra years of incarceration 02:23
- Diagnosed with schizophrenia, treatment helped 02:35
- Relapsed into drug and alcohol abuse, quit taking medication 02:50
- Decides against evil methamphetamine world and turns to God 03:28
- Used coping skills learned in juvenile detention 03:55
- Now attends college, will finish in August 2011 04:06
Watch for Andrew Peterman's essay on how juvenile detention is more demanding than adult prison later in the week at JJIE.org.