Our Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, JJIE.org, has its roots in part in The Race Beat, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book co-written by Hank Klibanoff, former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I was taken by how important it was for the press to shine a spotlight on the injustices taking place in the South before and during the Civil Rights era. Today that same kind of spotlight must be shone on the juvenile justice system, which, with its share of injustices, remains in the shadows of the collective American consciousness.
When John Fleming came our way as the prospective editor of the JJIE.org, I knew he was a kindred spirit who cares deeply about high quality, ethically sound journalism and equal justice for all. That dual commitment is illustrated in his just published essay in the Nieman Reports entitled: Compelled to Remember What Others Want to Forget.
Klibanoff, Fleming and a small cadre of other reporters explain what has driven them, often for no pay, to report on the long ago crimes against blacks during the Civil Rights era. Of that time, Fleming writes:
I think, believe and hope that through knowing, by accepting the truth of it all, we'd be better. In my dreaming times, I yearn for it. When I awaken, I realize that the way forward is through doing what we do best. We tell stories. We are journalists. And if we, as journalists, don't tell these forgotten stories, who will?
We all must read those Nieman Report essays and reflect on that time, but also concentrate on our time when the work begun during the Civil Rights era is nowhere near complete. We don’t want to have to wait 50 years to tell the stories that reveal the truth of our times – and thus we have the JJIE.org and our small team of writers under Fleming’s guidance, who are here to tell the stories of the kids who are often pushed to the far margins of society and to the far reaches of our collective consciousness.
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Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), says research shows that it is important to "keep the kids out of heavy duty lockup as much as possible." In this video interview conducted by Leonard Witt, she says "Reclaim Ohio" is a project that saves money and has better outcomes than the bars and chains approach.
See subheads and time split guide below the video.
Time splits to help guide you through the video:
Not long ago I was bragging here about how our Juvenile Justice Information Exchange hit the 9,000 unique visitors a month mark. I thought that was really great for a niche journalism site covering juvenile justice issues. Now I am happy to report that by the end of March we hit the 12,000 monthly unique mark. Then last week it was 13,000 and this week it is 14,000 with more than 36,000 monthly page views; we are on a roll.
No other entity online or offline convenes 14,000 parents, lawyers, policymakers, teens, system professions, judges and everyday citizens interested in juvenile justice. Obviously our numbers say that we are filling a void. Although we are still Georgia centric, we have audience and contributors coast to coast. For example, Benjamin Chambers a frequent opinion piece contributor from Reclaiming Futures is based in Oregon.
Credit for this growing audience goes to our editor John Fleming, who officially moved from interim to
permanent editor this month, and to reporter Chandra Thomas, interns Ryan Schill and Amie Flanagan and the host of experts and citizen opinion writers. Behind the scenes Carole Arnold, Noah Echols, Clay Duda and Pete Colbenson are busy getting the word out about JJIE.org via traditional and online marketing and social media sites. You can read more about all of them here.
Of course, we are nothing without you as an involved member of this juvenile justice community of readers, commentators and supporters. We have about 400 friends who like us on Facebook and as many people who have signed up for our regular newsletter. Please join them.
Finally, thanks has to go to Ruth Ann Harnisch and the Harnisch Foundation, whose support has allowed us to prove that important public service journalism centered on complex issues like juvenile justice can build and maintain an audience.
Since the beginning of the Georgia legislative session our reporter Chandra Thomas and our supporting JJIE.org staff of editors, interns and freelancers have been closely watching all legislation aimed at juvenile justice issues.
I opened my Atlanta Journal-Constitution today to see how its coverage of these juvenile justice bills compared with ours here at the JJIE.org. From what I could see there was nothing to compare. I saw nothing about Senate Bill 127, which is a rewrite of the juvenile code. An issue we covered intensely even before it was introduced into the house. Much to the chagrin of its supporters it will not move forward. We will, in the days to come, analyze why it did not progress.
HB 185, the Runaway Youth Safety Act, which, as Thomas wrote, would have allowed homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children.
The two are among more than a dozen bills, which only the JJIE.org has covered on a persistent basis. This is not a dig at the other media. Dropping circulation and falling advertising revenues mean that cuts have to be made. Since areas like juvenile justice do not translate into big audience returns, their coverage is often the first to go. Which means the public will learn less and less about a system that touches more that 50,000 kids a year and thousands of state employees whose jobs are related to the various aspects of juvenile justice from safety to victimization to incarceration to deprivation.
It’s the mission of the Center for Sustainable Journalism to find ways to sustain niche journalism areas like juvenile justice. Why? Because it is obvious if we don’t cover them no one else will.
However, in the long run we can’t do it alone. We will need support. We know several thousand people, just like you, care about these issues and visit the JJIE.org to keep informed. The first step is for you to please sign up for our newsletter. Or supply us with story tips. Or write for our opinion pages. Or provide your advice on what might sustain us in the long run.
Eventually, we, just like public broadcasting, will have to have a funding drive. For now, please just sign up at the newsletter or, if you are in a hurry like us, at Facebook. Please take one of these small steps to demonstrate that you care because we know you do.
SB 127, also known as the Juvenile Code Rewrite and HB 185, the Runaway Youth Safety Act, that would allow homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children, are among the measures that didn’t meet the crucial deadline. VIEW SOME OF THE KEY JUVENILE JUSTICE AND CHILD-FOCUSED LEGISLATION.
“It had not made it out of [the] Rules [Committee] in time and that’s very disappointing,” says HB 185 sponsor Tom Weldon (R – Ringgold). “It looked like it was going to progress.”
HB 265, which supports Governor Nathan Deal’s recent effort to assemble a new bi-partisan council to study criminal justice reforms and make recommendations to a joint legislative committee, was overwhelmingly approved by the House, 169-1. Governor Deal has told JJIE.org that he hopes juvenile justice will be a part of that review due out next year.
SB 80, which would require any person, including a juvenile arrested for a felony offense, to submit a DNA sample for analysis in a Georgia Bureau of Investigation database, did make it in time. The grueling 11-hour workday included its passage in the Senate. If approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the governor, the measure would help solidify convictions on felony charges and identify suspects in other crimes. Twenty-four states and the federal government have similar programs in place. Supporters, including sponsor Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), tout it as an effective way to close cold cases and free people wrongly convicted of crimes.
A House vote on Sunday liquor sales, meantime, is stirring up debate about underage drinking. Religious conservatives on the Republican side joined some black Democrats in opposing SB 10 in a 32-22 vote. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) is among the vocal opponents of the measure now headed to the House.
“Young people drink on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, so this is going to increase underage drinking,” says Sen. Fort, a Georgia Legislative Black Caucus member. “There are going to be more [car] crashes due to this.”
Sen. Fort says supporters should consider the many unintended consequences. “This will contribute to more violence against women and children; that’s why I voted against it,” he says.
Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) disagrees with his fellow Black Caucus member. “This bill is about local control; empowering people to make choices in their community,” he says. “If their local jurisdiction puts it on ballot they will have the opportunity to vote on it; if their jurisdiction doesn’t then they won’t. This is not about promoting underage drinking. Creating a choice is what we passed today.”
Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) says assertions that SB 10 will contribute to more minors drinking are “absurd.” He too contends the measure is about choice.
“Right now there are those who choose to drive to a bar, restaurant, hotel or sports establishment on Sundays and consume alcohol and can drink to their heart’s content; this is about giving the very same right to their counterpart who wants to drive pass that same bar, restaurant, hotel or sports establishment on a Sunday and instead buy some alcohol from a package store and consume it at home. ”
Cobb Alcohol Taskforce spokeswoman Alisa Bennett-Hart shares Sen. Fort’s concerns.
“The trends do support that young people drink more on weekends, so adding an extra day of access to it definitely will have an impact,” she says. “If adults did not provide alcohol to them, this would not be a problem.”
Bennett-Hart say the non-profit, which combats underage drinking in Cobb County primarily by targeting the actions of adults, is not a “prohibitionist group” opposed to all alcohol consumption.
“We believe it is the right and privilege of anyone over the age of 21,” she says. “We have a problem with adults who provide alcohol to underage children who do not have the right and privilege to consume alcohol.”
Rep. Mitchell says issues, such as the ones raised by Bennett-Hart are better addressed in other ways. “We have laws in place for that,” he says.
Sen. Jones echoes a similar sentiment. He says it is unfair to place so many concerns on one bill. “This doesn’t address underage drinking, alcoholism or kids being able to buy alcohol,” he says. “Those are issues that still impact and affect our community. We are the ones who have to protect our kids from that. We have to ensure that businesses are not selling alcohol to underage kids. Those laws are already on the books and should be enforced.”
Bennett-Hart predicts that “adding another day” of alcohol sales will be problematic for already overextended agencies charged with cracking down on underage drinking and sales. The Taskforce, she says, will be using next month’s “Alcohol Awareness Month” designation to educate Cobb County leaders and residents about the organization’s concerns.
Going up against the powerful alcohol lobby ultimately will be an uphill battle, Sen. Fort predicts.
“We already know what’s going to happen,” he says if and when the measure ever goes before voters. “These liquor folks are going to put a lot of money into a referendum. The opposition’s not going to have that kind of money to pump into TV commercials and ads like they will.”
Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 People, Essence and Atlanta magazines.
Today is Crossover Day — the critical mid-point in the legislative session, when Senate bills move over to the House and House bills transition to the Senate. Any House bills that have not passed their chamber of origin will not progress in 2011. Because this is the first year of the two-year legislative cycle, any bills that fail to cross over may still be considered in 2012.
Here’s an update on some of the legislation pertaining to young people in Georgia and juvenile justice issues that JJIE.org has been following.
- SB 31 would expand attorney-client privilege to cover parents' participation in private conversations with defense attorneys representing their children in delinquent or criminal cases. The bill introduced in January by Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur) gives the child – not the parent – exclusive rights to waive the privilege. This measure passed the Senate on February 23 and now awaits consideration by the House Civil Judiciary Committee.
- Introduced last month by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), SB 80 would require any person, including a juvenile arrested for a felony offense, to give a DNA sample. It would be analyzed and kept in a database by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The Senate State Institutions and Property Committee voted affirmatively on it last week. It now awaits consideration by the full Senate.
- SB 105 proposes to establish a three-person juvenile parole panel appointed by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) commissioner. The petition for parole could be brought by either the child in custody for a designated felony or DJJ. It requires a recommendation by a DJJ counselor placement supervisor no less than a year after the child has been in the department's custody. Sponsored by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), it was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) March 4 and awaits further consideration by the committee. Sen. Jones has told JJIE.org that he will support a similar bill, HB 373 (see description below), if necessary. “The key is getting something out there that works,” he says. “If HB 373 gets passed, let’s go with it. I wholeheartedly support it.”
- SB 127, also known as the Juvenile Code Rewrite and Child Protection and Public Safety Act, has not yet made it out of the SJC, making it more likely that it won’t advance any further this session. That would be a major blow for supporters who have been involved in the rewriting process since 2004. Some local child advocates are hinting off the record to JJIE.org that some exciting updates are expected on this soon. Sen. Jones says SJC chairman Sen. Bill Hamrick tells him that supporters of the measure have been “in discussions with Governor [Nathan] Deal about this.” JJIE.org, of course, will keep you posted on any new developments.
- SB 208, the Dropout Deterrent Act, has been assigned to the Senate Education and Youth Committee (SEYC). Introduced by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) on March 4, this bill proposes to raise the age that children are required to be in school from 16 to 17 years of age. The parent of a 16-year-old would be allowed to sign a waiver allowing the child to go to technical school or community college instead of a traditional public school. The measure is similar to SB 49 introduced by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell). It proposes to raise the required school age from 16 to 16.5 years of age. “That one might be debated on Crossover Day and if it gets pushed through I will support it,” says Sen. Fort. “My bill increases the age to 17, although I prefer 18. I think 17 is a good compromise. The fact of the matter is that thousands of young people drop out and do so at a great cost to themselves and the rest of the state. If thousands don’t show up for 11th grade they’re more than likely going to end up in the juvenile justice system. More than half of those in the system now don’t graduate high school and we end up paying for them on the back end with prison and public assistance.”
- SB 224, introduced by Sen. Jones on March 7, would limit the cases where children age 13 or older would automatically be tried for aggravated child molestation in superior court rather than juvenile court. Only cases where the victim is physically injured would immediately go to adult court. “This is a very good bill designed to keep cases in juvenile court rather than having these kids tried in adult court,” says Sen. Jones, a Georgia Legislative Black Caucus member. “A lot of states are beginning to do this. This protects juveniles by ensuring that kids who commit these infractions, especially when it is consensual, can stay in juvenile court where their records can be sealed and they have a real shot at rehabilitation.” The bill has been referred to the SJC. “This measure has bi-partisan support and we’re looking for [another bill] to attach it to,” notes Sen. Jones. “Any time a bill comes through we can amend that bill as long as it addresses the same chapter and title. HB 373 (see description below) would be a great vehicle for us. If that bill continues moving forward we’ll attach it to 373 and let it ride along!"
- Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver’s (D-Decatur) Foster Children's Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Act, also known as HB 23, is likely dead for this session. It would have required the Department of Human Services (DHS) to create procedures to ensure that the psychotropic medication administered to children in foster care is appropriate and delivered with informed consent of the parent. Children over the age of 14 could also provide their own consent. The bill would have also required DHS to keep records of the medications and other therapies received or recommended by the child. Rep. Oliver has agreed to drop the measure for the time being, according to Kirsten Widner, policy director for Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center. The center has received funding for a pilot program that would better track the medications foster children receive. The endeavor is a partnership between Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based national foundation, and DHS. “Rep. Oliver has agreed to hold the bill for now and see how this pilot program goes,” says Widner. “We’re really excited to work with Casey Family Programs.”
- The House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee has given a favorable recommendation to HB 185, also known as the Runaway Youth Safety Act. The measure, sponsored by Tom Weldon (R – Ringgold) now awaits consideration by the full House. It would allow homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children. It also prevents facilities that serve runaways from 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 the first 72 hours of contact with the child. “This bill allows shelters to care for the child up to three days as long as they are trying to reunite this child with their parents or guardian,” explains Normer Adams, executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children. “It also requires these shelters to be registered and follow certain best practices in regard to child welfare. These requirements are necessary to assure that those who are providing substitute care are accountable to someone for the care rendered.”
- HB 200, which seeks to toughen the penalty for sex traffickers and improve outcomes for victims, passed the full House on March 2. The measure introduced by Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) now awaits consideration by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “Committee Chairperson Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Gwinnett) has said she will make it a priority,” says supporter Shelley Senterfitt of the non-profit, Georgia Women for Change. “We are happy that it made it over before Crossover Day, but we won’t count our chickens before they hatch. I try not to anticipate anything, but we haven’t heard anyone express concern with it.” Key provisions include an expanded definition of “coercion” in the human trafficking statute (including causing or threatening financial harm), prohibiting defense by blood relation (such as parents exploiting their children) or by marriage (such as a husband “selling” his wife). It significantly increases penalties for human traffickers who target minors. Those arrested for sexual servitude would be treated as victims, not criminals, eligible for victim’s compensation. Children being prostituted would still be arrested, but could use an “affirmative defense,” allowing the child to avoid prostitution charges.
- HB 314 would allow children in foster care to leave school to attend court hearings in their deprivation cases without being counted absent for part or all of the school day. Also known as "Jessie's Law," the bill passed the full House last week. Sponsor Rep. Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) now awaits assignment to a Senate Committee.
- The “Good Behavior bill” also known as HB 373 pushes for more discretion among juvenile court judges. It passed through the House Monday – just in time to meet this week’s critical deadline. The measure, which has been formally endorsed by DJJ and the Council of Juvenile Court Judges, would allow judges to review the sentences of designated felons who have served part of their terms for consideration for early release. A motion could only be filed after the child had served a year in custody and could not be re-filed more than once a year. Backed by Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn), the bill is now headed to the Senate where it will likely be heard by the SJC.
- HB 471 seeks to require that an objective, written assessment instrument be used to determine whether detention of a child in a Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC) or alternate out-of-home setting is appropriate for a child who has been arrested. Sources tell JJIE.org this bill is dead mainly because the governor's office has not had time to determine if it will cost the state more money to implement it. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), who still supports the bill and intends to sponsor it again next year. The measure also clarifies that keeping a child in secure detention prior to adjudication and disposition should be done rarely and only if less restrictive options have been determined to be inappropriate.
- Rep. Donna Sheldon’s (R-Dacula) HB 529 would expand the professionals required to report child abuse or neglect to include reproductive health clinic staffers. The bill has been referred to the House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee.
- Rep. Roger Bruce’s (D-Atlanta) HR 9 introduced last month would create a joint study committee to look into the causes and effects of teen violence. The resolution calls for a joint study committee made up of six appointed members to issue a report including possible legislative recommendations by January 2012. HR 9 has been referred to the House Children and Youth Committee.
Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at email@example.com. 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.
I love to give you updates because they are so positive.
Today the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, JJIE.org, broke the 9,000 unique visitor per month mark and we have had more than 20,000 page views for the month. Each weekday nearly 500 visitors come to the site with more than 800 page views. Of those, about 40 percent are coming from Georgia.
Remember we are a small niche news operation, but this rapid growth in numbers tells me we are on to something important. Youth Today, the nationally distributed newspaper focusing on children's issues, agrees, writing last week:
Speaking of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange: If we haven’t mentioned it before, kudos to the Center for Sustainable Journalism, housed at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University, for starting the project. The content is Georgia-centric, for obvious reasons, but JJIE is already putting out good discussion pieces on national juvenile justice issues. Very happy to have some journalism colleagues focused on juvenile justice.
And closer to home GaPolitico wrote:
I got a tip from someone connected to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. It is a great resource for dealing with Justice to those Children who are unfortunately caught up in our legal system.
What can you do to help? The easiest thing is to sign up for our newsletter on the JJIE.org home page, and also to "Like" us on our JJIEga Facebook page. Those two acts will help us build a community and to spread our stories far and wide.
Together we can produce positive change. Thanks.