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    Ga. goes commando, leaves interstate compact for juveniles

     

    By RYAN SCHILL/Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

    Georgia’s juvenile court judges face a new, unprecedented set of challenges that could separate kids from their parents and create an “asylum” state for runaway delinquents.

    As of Friday, the state is dropping out of a 56-year-old agreement that allows for the seamless transfer of delinquent juveniles and runaways between states. Georgia is the only state that has not adopted or taken steps to adopt a new version of the Interstate Compact for Juveniles, established in 1955.

    The Interstate Commission for Juveniles, which oversees the compact, gave Georgia legislators three extensions to vote to enter the new compact (in 2008, 2009 and 2010).  Since the Legislature declined to so then and again in 2011, Georgia gets no more extensions, officials at the compact say.

    Georgia’s juvenile judges are left “scratching their heads” without the compact, said Hall County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Carden. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

    Asked if individual agreements could be worked out with judges in neighboring state, 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.”

    Ashley Lippert, the interstate commission’s executive director, said the commission’s attorney has discouraged side deals.

    Side deals “create liability concerns,” she said. “These kids are under supervision for a reason.”

    If a juvenile offender does something in another state that violates terms of his Georgia probation, she said, that state will no longer have an obligation to do anything about it.

    So what happens to a child on probation whose parents move out of state for work or personal reasons?

    “Parents may have to leave their kids behind,” 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 [monitor them].  It puts us in a very uncertain situation with parents.”

    As JJIE.org reported in March, Georgia could become an “asylum state” without the compact, said Donna Bonner, former chair of the commission and now Texas commissioner for the compact.

    “If something doesn’t change,’ Bonner said at the time, “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, has told JJIE.org that Georgia would have no way to obtain custody of a teen who commits a violent crime and flees to another state, 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 2012 legislative session. It is unclear if lawmakers will back the legislation then or if Gov. Nathan Deal will support it.

    Lippert says the interstate commission will do “everything it takes” to get Georgia to rejoin the compact.

    “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.”

     

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