By Mike Klein
Georgia appears poised to rejoin the Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ) which is one of those under-the-radar parts of law that most folks don’t think much about. Forty-nine states have a contractual agreement under which they can return out-of-state juvenile offenders to their home states. The state that does not participate with the other 49 states is Georgia.
It was not always that way. Georgia was an Interstate Compact member starting in 1955 through the first seven years of former Governor Sonny Perdue’s administration. But in 2010, the eighth and final year of Perdue’s second term, Georgia withdrew from the Compact. That decision is now seen as incompatible with ongoing juvenile justice reform, said Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske; “It is not good policy for Georgia not to join the compact.”
Teske serves on the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform and he is widely regarded as a juvenile justice expert. This month the Council recommendations report said, “Handling the movement of juveniles across state lines can be costly and burdensome, and can also create confusion about which state bears the financial burden of continued supervision and which state is responsible for the safe return of youth.”
The Council cited data from June, 2011 that showed the state was notified about 1,227 juveniles who were returned to Georgia during the previous annual reporting period, which was the final year of Georgia’s participation in the Compact. In turn, state juvenile officials were able to notify local authorities about their return and provide supervision measures as required.
There is no reason to believe fewer juveniles returned to Georgia during the next twelve months but the June, 2012 report showed Georgia knew about only 497 returned juveniles, and the number dropped again to 456 notifications in the June, 2013 report. The decline is attributed to states no longer being required to inform Georgia about juvenile offender movements. The criminal justice reform council estimated that since Georgia left the Compact more than 700 juveniles return annually without the state knowing that they are here.
Currently, the Department of Human Services says there are 328 juveniles in state custody who could be sent home to other states if Georgia was a Compact member; in some cases custody is a shared responsibility between the Department of Juvenile Justice and the DHS Division of Family and Children Services; 281 juveniles are solely the responsibility of DFCS. The annual per bed cost for detention in juvenile justice facilities ranges between $88,000 and $91,000 based on the type of detention. Further, DJJ says other states refused to work with Georgia on 163 potential transfer cases during 2012 and 2013 because the state is not a Compact member.
Momentum for Georgia to rejoin the Interstate Compact for Juveniles is coming from other sectors including the Council of Juvenile Court Judges of Georgia (CJCJG) and the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University Law School.
Writing to Governor Nathan Deal in November, CJCJG President Judge Robin Shearer said, “Because Georgia is not currently a Compact member, other member states deny the transfer of cases involving alleged and adjudicated children whose families reside in those states. In serious cases, this forces us to commit a child to the custody of our State, and in other cases, to place the child in our foster care system.”
The Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University Law School supports rejoining the compact, in part, because, “The confusion of responsibilities between states causes Georgia to waste taxpayer money and risk the safety of communities,” said Barton director Melissa Carter.
The building block for Georgia adult and juvenile justice reform is incarceration for serious and violent offenders alongside the development and expansion of wide-ranging services, including community based programs, for offenders who do not pose a public safety risk. Judge Teske said those goals are “defeated if youth are forced to be committed to our state facilities or delinquent youth are returning to Georgia without supervision.”
To have an organization dedicated to the study of the problems that face Georgia in a bipartisan way….is absolutely one of the finest things that’s happened to our state.