Georgia’s Juvenile Judges Face Uncertain Situation as Compact Expires

Beginning July 1, Georgia’s juvenile court judges will face a new, unprecedented set of challenges.  That’s the first day Georgia will no longer operate under an agreement that allows for the transfer of delinquent juveniles and runaways between the states.

Georgia is the only state in the nation that has not already adopted or is not set to adopt the Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ), an update of a previous compact established in 1955.  Currently, Georgia functions under the 1955 compact.  The Interstate Commission for Juveniles, the governing body of the ICJ, gave Georgia three extensions to pass legislation so the state could enter the new compact (in 2008, 2009 and 2010).  Since the Legislature failed to enact the needed legislation in 2011, Georgia will not be given any more extensions, officials at the compact say.

The compact provides a framework that allows the seamless transition of juveniles from one state to another.  Without the compact, Georgia’s juvenile judges are left “scratching their heads,” Judge Mary Carden, a juvenile judge in the state, said.  “Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

When asked if individual agreements between judges in neighboring states could be worked out, Judge Carden said, “I don’t think that’s realistic.”

“The numbers to deal with are great,” she said.  “It will take an inordinate amount of time and effort.”

Judges face enormous workloads, she said.  “It’s very difficult for me to get in touch with judges in other courts.”

The Interstate Commission for Juveniles' executive director Ashley Lippert said the commission's attorney has discouraged side deals.  Side deals "create liability concerns," Lippert said.

"These kids are under supervision for a reason," she said.  In the event they violate the terms of their probation, she said, the other state has no obligation to do anything as long as Georgia is not a member of the compact.

So what happens to a child on probation if their parents are forced to move out of state for work or personal reasons?

“Parents may have to leave their kids behind,” Judge Carden said.  “I am not going to allow kids with felony convictions out of the state if they have not completed their sentence and there’s no guarantee the new state will.  It puts us in a very uncertain situation with parents.”

As reported in March, without the compact Georgia could become an "asylum state," according to Donna Bonner, former chair of the Interstate Commission for Juveniles and the current Texas Commissioner for the Interstate Compact for Juveniles.  At the time Bonner said, “if something doesn’t change, there is going to be this big, black hole in the Southern United States for the juvenile justice system and it is going to be known as Georgia.”

Cindy Pittman, the former Georgia compact administrator, told in a previous interview if a teen commits a crime — rape, murder or armed robbery, for example — and flees to another state, Georgia would have no way to get him back.  Conversely, if a juvenile delinquent from another state came to Georgia there would be no way to send him back.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue objected to the compact because it infringed on states’ rights, according to officials familiar with the compact.  Georgia will not have another chance to enter the compact until the next legislative session begins in early 2012.  It is unclear if lawmakers will back the legislation then and if current Gov. Nathan Deal will support it.

Ashley Lippert says  the Interstate Commission for Juveniles is "willing to do everything it takes" to get Georgia to sign on to the compact in the future.

"We want to bring Georgia back into the fold and we are open to helping them do that," Lippert said.  "That has always been our goal."

April 15, 2011

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