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GA’s juvenile justice chief stepping down


By RYAN SCHILL /  Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Amy Howell, the first woman to head the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice is stepping down, according to a resignation letter obtained by JJIE.

Amy Howell

Gov. Nathan Deal, a former juvenile court judge, appointed Howell in January 2011 soon after he was inaugurated. An official announcement is expected Monday.

The spokesperson for the DJJ declined to comment.

According to the letter, at the request of Deal, Howell will become General Counsel for the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) to “ensure one of our major agencies is running smoothly through a federal settlement and transition in service delivery.” In 2010, state and federal officials reached an agreement that places DBHDD’s focus on community-based care following a three-year investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into allegations DBHDD was violating patients’ civil rights.

A spokesperson for the Department of Behavioral Health denied any knowledge of Howell’s move, saying only that Dr. Frank E. Shelp will remain commissioner.

In the letter, Howell reflected on her short tenure as DJJ commissioner.

“I have counted every day that I was Commissioner,” she wrote, “to ensure that I took full advantage of the opportunity to serve and improve our agency.”

Writing to her staff she continued:

I have tremendous respect and awe for DJJ staff’s unwavering commitment to helping youth and keeping our community safe.  On the difficult days, recall the positive impact you have had – when former youth call to say  they’ve found and kept jobs, have finished school, gotten married, or started their own family and are happy. These are the stories of your success.

Concluding the letter she wrote, “Remember, offer hope and youth change.”

Howell, a former assistant public defender in the DeKalb County, Ga. Juvenile Court, first joined the DJJ in 2005 as legal services director. A year later she was named deputy commissioner. According to her biography on the DJJ website, Howell managed many different divisions within the DJJ including legal services, apprehensions and medical and behavioral health.

In recent days, Howell came under fire from a local Atlanta television station when it was discovered she had been receiving a monthly car allowance of more than $580, along with access to a state-owned car. The television station, WSB-TV, reported the state stopped approving car allowances in 2005. WSB-TV also reported a mileage log for the vehicle failed to account for more than 2,000 miles. The log showed only Howell and two close associates used the car, which the state leases for nearly $500 per month.

Howell reimbursed the state for $4,100, the amount of the car allowance she received minus taxes paid. WSB-TV reported the two previous DJJ commissioners also received car allowances but could not determine who approved the funds.





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2 Responses to “GA’s juvenile justice chief stepping down”

  1. Tina says:

    She probably stepped down because a young man was killed in the YDC, days before. Which is usually the beginning of a major internal shakeup/shakedown.

  2. Hostalelcapitolio says:

    Dear Commissioner Buckner,I truly wish you the very best as the Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice. I once woekrd for the Department and I can say it was the most interesting experience in my 30 year career. As a former Assistant Director and Coordinator, I know for a fact that there are good people in uniform around the State of Georgia. The problem is non-caring Administrators or people who just don?t care about people, especially people of color.My experience with the Youth Development Center in Augusta, Georgia was disheartening for so many reasons. The following is a simple example that you may or may not agree with. A fellow resident broke the jaw of an Atlanta resident while he was asleep. At that point, I became fed up with the institution?s culture. As the Coordinator of the Short Term Program, I decided no longer to accept the status quo. I then posted consequences and expectations of residents in the living quarters of the unit. My assaults and special incidents drastically went down to almost zero. I was asked by Director Sowell in a morning meeting, how did I get my special incidents to significantly drop? I told him that I incorporated consequences that were meaningful. I told him that limiting visitation was a key measure for deterring unacceptable behavior. The Director terminated the concept and the boys became disruptive again. Of course, I became the bad guy but I refused to be a part of the problem.As the new Commissioner, I am asking you not to follow the footsteps of your predecessors. Take a serious look at your policies governing behaviors and use of force, to include the use of OC when necessary. Please allow your Officers to go home to their families without serious bodily harm. Our system has no form of deterrence in our Juvenile Facilities which subsequently moves young boys and girls psychologically closer to the Department of Corrections. We should not be in the business of manufacturing criminals. Safety and control are important. Forget about the dollar bill and do what is right in the eyes of your God. Don?t allow your children to just serve time, allow that time to serve them. Keep them busy, build their self worth, and coerce them to learn more than one vocational skill while they are in a structure environment. Without meaningful programs, a strong behavioral modification system, due process for employees and qualified task masters in all positions of influence, you will not achieve your goals as well. There are good and bad leaders in key positions, so give your people the right to have a voice! The best of luck,Roderick F. Pearson