Aug. 26, 2015 — Severe understaffing and failures in training and mental health procedures appeared to be factors in the Easter Sunday suicide of a 14-year-old at an Atlanta area youth detention center. A state Department of Juvenile Justice probe, while drawing no direct connection, found dozens of violations of DJJ policies in a 78-page report on the death of Jimariya Davidson. The findings illustrate what some observers see as a frequently found gap between carefully considered policies and everyday practices in youth prisons across the country.
April 20, 2015 — The GBI is investigating the apparent Easter Sunday suicide of a 14-year-old boy at an Atlanta-area youth detention facility, reportedly after a guard did not respond to calls for help.
Two juvenile witnesses said they warned a correctional officer beforehand that the youth was threatening to kill himself, but the guard did not respond, according to documents released this afternoon by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.
The unidentified youth “was calling me & telling me to tell the officer he was going to kill his self. But the officer wouldn’t go see what he wanted. At 11:45 [a.m.] they put us up & seen the body hanging.”
Another juvenile, asked what the staff could have done differently, responded: “Listen when a youth says something.”
Jan. 2, 2014 — Georgia’s juvenile correctional officers, frustrated by low morale, stingy pay and thin staffing, quit their jobs three times as often as other state employees, state auditors say. Some 57 percent of DJJ’s entry-level officers resigned in FY 2013. A self-perpetuating downward spiral might best describe personnel practices outlined in the just-released audit. The constant turnover weakens staffing levels, so the remaining officers will have to work extra hours for which they won’t be paid immediately, if at all. Most don’t hang around for the two years necessary to qualify for promotion.
March 29, 2013 — A bill to seal allegations of misconduct inside Georgia’s juvenile prisons remained stuck in committee when the Legislature adjourned last night. Senate Bill 69, sponsored by Jack Murphy and others, would have exempted reports of “abuses or wrongdoing in the juvenile justice system” from disclosure under the Georgia Open Records Act and authorized dismissal of whistleblowers leaking such allegations to the news media or advocacy groups.
March 20, 2013 — Allegations of wrongdoing in the state’s juvenile prisons could be sealed from public view under a bill considered today by a House subcommittee. Witnesses for the state Department of Juvenile Justice said the bill was intended to protect children in custody from retaliation for reporting gang or other criminal activity. The current version of the bill, though, makes no mention of gangs or juvenile crime. Rather, it would exempt from disclosure “the information provided by children who report abuses or wrongdoing in the juvenile justice system.”
State officials have cleared three guards of accusations that they incited violence among girls held at a Rome juvenile detention facility. One of the guards was fired, though, for failing to prevent a Dec. 7 attack, and the other two were disciplined for unrelated policy violations. Some girls in the facility said they believed guards were complicit in some violence, but officials said the guards passed polygraph exams and “the totality of witness statements and information” did not support the charges.
Haley Bonds says she did everything she could think of to protect her 16-year-old daughter from the beatdown she was expecting at a youth jail in Northwest Georgia. Yet, just 20 minutes after a supervisor assured her Whitney Bonds would be safe, another officer called Haley
to say her daughter was “bleeding out” and being rushed to the emergency room. Two months later, Whitney says guards at the Rome RYDC used bribes of food to set one youth against another. “It’s like they’re dogfighting these kids,” her mother said.
They are runaways, truants, curfew violators, underage smokers and drinkers. They’re called status offenders because their actions are only an issue due to their status as juveniles; if an adult did the same thing, it wouldn’t be a crime. Now, a report commissioned by the Governor’s Office for Children and Families warns that Georgia could lose $2 million a year in federal funding if it continues locking them up at current rates.
Amy Howell, the first woman to head the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, is stepping down after just 10 months on the job. Gov. Nathan Deal has named her general counsel for the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities to help oversee a federal mental health settlement.
Georgia has until June 30 to sign an interstate compact pledging cooperation in juvenile justice matters. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue refused, ostensibly because he felt it infringed on the state’s sovereignty. Without the compact, officials may have no way to monitor juvenile offenders who leave Georgia. The clock is ticking.