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It’s Official: Key Juvenile Focused Bills Now Law in Georgia

Some key juvenile justice-related bills passed in Georgia’s 2011 legislative session are now law.

The juvenile “Good Behavior Bill” the Runaway Youth Safety Act and the Human Trafficking Bill officially went into effect July 1st.

HB 373, known as the “Good Behavior Bill,” gives children who achieve a track record of good behavior and academic success in Georgia’s Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDCs) and Youth Development Centers (YDCs) a chance to substantially reduce their time in custody. The measure, backed by the Council of Juvenile Court Judges, also gives juvenile court judges more discretion.

Key provisions in the law include:

  • Allows judges to review the sentences of designated felons who have served part of their terms for consideration for early release.
  • A motion can only be filed after the child has served a year in custody and cannot be re-filed more than once a year.
  • Good behavior and academic achievement weighs heavily in the child’s favor.
  • DJJ makes recommendations, but the juvenile court judge assigned to the case has the final say.
  • The victim and prosecuting attorney are notified within 14 days of the child’s scheduled hearing date. All victims will have the opportunity to participate in the child’s court hearings.

The Runaway Youth Safety Act allows homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children. Its passage also keeps facilities that serve runaways from no longer violating two state laws: contributing to the unruliness of a minor and interference of custody of a parent, so long as staffers either contact a parent or file an abuse report within 72 hours.

Key components of the measure include:

  • Allows shelters to care for the child up to three days as long as they are efforts to reunite the child with their parents or guardian.
  • Requires shelters to be registered and follow certain best practices in regards to child welfare.
  • Some advocates say it keeps those who are providing substitute care accountable for the care rendered.

Atlanta is a known hub for human trafficking and HB 200, toughens the penalty for sex traffickers and seeks to endow victims with more protective rights.

Key provisions in the “sex trafficking bill” include:

  • Provides an expanded definition of “coercion” in the human trafficking statute, to include causing or threatening financial harm.
  • Prohibits defense by blood relation – such as parents exploiting their children – or by marriage – such as a husband “selling” his wife.
  • Significantly beefs up penalties for human traffickers who target minors. If the victim is at least 16 but less than 18 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 5-20 years in prison and a fine of $2,500 to $10,000. If the victim is under 16 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 10-30 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
  • Treats those in sexual servitude as victims, not criminals, by offering them recovery under the state crime victim’s fund.
  • Provides an affirmative defense for victims who come forward with the sexual crimes of prostitution, sodomy, solicitation of sodomy and masturbation for hire, if the defendant was being trafficked for sexual servitude.
  • Allows the state to seize any real or personal property that a trafficker used for, or bought with the proceeds of the crime.
  • Requires law enforcement agencies to receive training on how to relate to human trafficking victims.

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Sex Trafficking Bill Clears Senate With Unanimous Vote

In February, an estimated 600 to 800 people showed up at the capitol to join in the third annual “lobby day” event to raise awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Georgia.

The Georgia Senate’s unanimous vote in support of the human trafficking bill that toughens the penalty for sex traffickers and seeks to improve outcomes for victims is an historic victory, state child advocates say.

“To have legislation written and passed in the same session is amazing and seems historic,” gushes Street GRACE Executive Director Cheryl DeLuca Johnson. “This is huge! The leadership of [lead sponsor] Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta) and [supporter] Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Gwinnett) was invaluable to this process.”

Julianna McConnell agrees. “I’ve been a lobbyist for 20 years and this is probably one of the most fulfilling moments of my career,” says McConnell, Street GRACE advocacy chairperson. “This legislation is not about the work of one person; it’s been an ongoing effort for several years. To pass both the House and the Senate with just one dissenting vote in the House says a lot. It’s like Rep. Lindsey said, this legislation ‘applies Old Testament justice against those who commit the crime of trafficking and provides New Testament compassion for those who are victims.”

Street Grace, a Norcross-based non-profit, strives to eliminate child sexual exploitation in metro Atlanta. PHOTO BY © Koko Hunt / Ministry of Design

McConnell says the victory is especially important because Atlanta is a known hub for human trafficking. Street GRACE representatives say about 375 girls are exploited in Georgia each month, with the majority of the illegal incidents occurring in Atlanta. In that same time frame, the organization estimates, about 7,200 men knowingly or unknowingly purchase sex from teen girls in the state. “It’s not just the pimps, we also need to crack down on the Johns; the buyers,” says supporter Katherine White McCullough. “We have to get to that point in society where we no longer say ‘boys will be boys.’ These people are buying children younger and younger and that’s not okay.”

Liz Odom of Decatur says she ventured down to the capitol as a show of support for the measure. “A lot of people don’t know what’s happening here in our state,” she says. “This vote shows that we’re ready for a change in Georgia. This is truly a testament that people care.”

HB 200 passed out of the Senate unanimously without any amendments Tuesday, setting off a wave of excitement among the small group of supporters gathered in the state capitol. About 40 men and women, mostly from local churches and community organizations, donned black shirts and purple scarves in a show of support. Nikema Williams was among those sporting the scarves handed out by representatives from We Urge You, the umbrella organization for non-profits Street GRACE, A Future. Not A Past and Wellspring Living. “It just feels good to win,” says the Northwest Atlanta resident. “This is an opportunity for Georgia’s policies to no longer mirror third world countries in regards to this issue.”

Her fellow supporter Amber English says she was elated to be at the capitol in time for the final vote. “Usually people are up here protesting or opposing something,” she says. “It’s always good to see something positive happen. The fact that it was a unanimous vote definitely makes the strong statement that this is legislation that we all can get behind.”

Key provisions in HB 200 include:

  • Provides an expanded definition of “coercion” in the human trafficking statute, to include causing or threatening financial harm.
  • Prohibits defense by blood relation – such as parents exploiting their children – or by marriage – such as a husband “selling” his wife.
  • Significantly beefs up penalties for human traffickers who target minors. If the victim is at least 16 but less than 18 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 5-20 years in prison and a fine of $2,500 to $10,000. If the victim is under 16 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 10-30 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
  • Treats those in sexual servitude as victims, not criminals, by offering them recovery under the state crime victims fund.
  • Provides an affirmative defense for victims when coming forward to the sexual crimes of prostitution, sodomy, solicitation of sodomy and masturbation for hire if the defendant was being trafficked for sexual servitude.
  • Allows the state to seize any real or personal property that a trafficker used for, or bought with the proceeds of the crime.
  • Requires law enforcement agencies to receive training on how to relate to human trafficking victims.

“We, as a state, are saying to these traffickers ‘you are no longer allowed to do this to our children in Georgia,’” adds McConnell. “And if you do, we will are now able to increase the penalties and seize all of your assets. HB 200 includes training for law enforcement and involves the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. This is very well-rounded legislation.”

DeLuca Johnson

Rep. Lindsey’s bill built upon the foundation established by a failed measure introduced last year by Sen. Unterman, which pushed for children 16 and under to be treated as victims and not criminals in prostitution cases.  Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens had members of his staff work with Rep. Lindsey to strengthen the legal framework for the new measure, in hopes that it would avoid a similar fate.

On the heels of the victory, supporters of the measure say now it is time to gear up for the next stage of their efforts. “Now that we have a good bill, we have to make sure it is implemented,” says McCullough. “A Future Not A Past has already trained over $2,000 law enforcement officers across the state. We’re also doing a series of trainings with prosecutors. We will all have to continue this grass roots movement.”

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Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at cthom141@kennesaw.edu. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and Atlanta, People and Essence magazines.

Human Trafficking Bill Clears House Sub-Committee

A human trafficking bill that toughens the penalty for sex traffickers and improves outcomes for victims has cleared another hurdle.

The Ramsey Subcommittee of the House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee pushed HB 200 forward for further consideration Thursday, after a lively hearing on the measure the day before. The bill’s sponsor House Whip Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) opened the brief meeting – a follow up to yesterday’s considerably longer one – by highlighting some slight wording changes sub-committee members had suggested.

Rep. Lindsey

“I think we took a good bill and made it even better,” Rep. Lindsey told sub-committee members, of the measure that includes charging those who traffic children under the age of 16 with aggravated felony.

With little discussion, the subcommittee unanimously approved the motion raised by House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-DeKalb) to push it through for consideration by the full committee.

“I support the bill,” says Rep. Abrams. “I think some more changes need to be made in committee, but overall I think it’s a strong bill that addresses a very important issue in Georgia. I look forward to watching it move forward and pass quickly.”

Majority Caucus Vice-Chair Matt Ramsey (R- Peachtree City) agrees.

“It’s a good bill; one that gets to the heart of one of the truly aberrant practices in our society,” he says. “I expect it to move through quickly.”

Rep. Lindsey’s bill builds upon the foundation established by a failed measure introduced last year by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), which pushed for children 16 and under to be treated as victims and not criminals in prostitution cases.  Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens had members of his staff work with Rep. Lindsey to strengthen the legal framework for the new measure, in hopes that it would avoid a similar fate.

“It puts more arrows into the quiver in terms of helping prosecutors prosecute those who engage in human trafficking,” says Rep. Lindsey. “It enhances the penalties in general and even more so for those involved in this reprehensible practice and even more so if the victims are underage. This also cracks down hard on the pimps and Johns.”

Key provisions in HB 200:

  • Provides an expanded definition of “coercion” in the human trafficking statute,  to include causing or threatening financial harm.
  • Prohibits defense by blood relation – such as parents exploiting their children – or by marriage – such as a husband “selling” his wife.
  • Significantly beefs up penalties for human traffickers who target minors. If the victim is at least 16 but less than 18 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 5-20 years in prison and a fine of $2,500 to $10,000. If the victim is under 16 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 10-30 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
  • Treats those in sexual servitude as victims, not criminals, by offering them recovery under the state crime victims fund .
  • Provides an affirmative defense for victims when coming forward to the sexual crimes of prostitution, sodomy, solicitation of sodomy and masturbation for hire if the defendant was being trafficked for sexual servitude.
  • Allows the state to seize any real or personal property that a trafficker used for, or bought with the proceeds of the crime.
  • Requires law enforcement agencies to receive training on how to relate to human trafficking victims.

Rep. Lindsey says he’s optimistic that HB 200 will pass.

“This is a big step,” he says. “It won’t bring an end to human trafficking, but it reflects a beginning for our attack on this issue in the state of Georgia.”

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Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at cthom141@kennesaw.edu. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and Atlanta, People and Essence magazines.