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Georgia House Passes First of Two Criminal Justice Reform Bills

Tuesday, March 18 Update: The Georgia House has passed Senate Bill 365, which is one of two criminal justice reform bills on the calendar. The vote was 164-to-2. The bill is based in part on Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations.  SB 365 was amended on the House floor to add language from House Bill 923 that would move the state’s Child Fatality Review Board from the Child Advocate’s Office to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. HB 923 died in a Senate committee last week. As the bill was changed on the House floor, it requires Senate reconsideration. SB 364 is the other criminal justice bill still awaiting a House vote.

By MIKE KLEIN

Mike Klein Editor, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Mike Klein
Editor, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Monday afternoon the House Rules committee added two criminal justice reform bills to the House supplemental calendar for Tuesday, the next-to-last day of the 2014 Legislature.  These bills mirror recommendations made by a criminal justice council composed of public and private sector appointees.

Juvenile justice and lengthy civil code reforms last year and criminal justice reforms two years ago were based on the idea that folks who are dangerous should be locked up and folks who are not a threat should receive treatment to get straight.  The thinking goes that someone who needs treatment more than incarceration is not helped by being locked up alongside serious criminals.

Much of Senate Bill 365 is focused on post-incarceration reforms suggested by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, including restoration of a suspended driver’s license or a limited driving permit for the purpose of attending court-ordered required programs and / or seeking employment or going to work.  The bill also provides improved liability protection to employers who hire former offenders who successfully completed Department of Corrections pre-release programs.

SB 365 would also require that juveniles who are in substitute long-term home placements would have their cases reviewed every 12 months to ensure that the placement was still the best going forward plan.  The bill recognizes that for some children, going back to their family home is not in the child’s best interests. SB 365 unanimously passed the Senate, 53-to-0 with two senators not voting and one excused.

Senate Bill 364 updates last year’s 240-plus page House Bill 242 that rewrote the juvenile justice and civil codes.  The new bill requires that continued custody hearings for children in need of services – known as CHINS — would be held within 24 hours, excluding weekends and holidays; formerly that was 72 hours.  Cases for children who were immediately placed into foster care would be heard within 72 hours, excluding weekends and holidays; formerly that was within five days.

SB 364 also requires that minors who are involved in termination of parental rights proceedings “shall” have a court-appointed special advocated – who may or may not also be their attorney.  Current law stipulates there “may” be a CASA appointment, so this adds an extra layer of protection for minors.  SB 364 passed the Senate 46-to-0 with seven senators not voting and three excused.

Neither Senate bill discusses whether Georgia should “Ban the Box” that asks state government applicants, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”  Currently this is the fourth question on a five-page state employment form.  Ten states have banned this question from applications, and the city of Atlanta banned the question last year.

The rationale is that “The Box” is regarded as a direct roadblock to employment after incarceration.  Employment and having somewhere stable to live are considered important for success after incarceration.  “Ban the Box” was recommended by the Council on Criminal Justice Reform; this could be handled administratively within agencies or even as an executive order by the Governor’s Office.

Another Council recommendation has already passed the Senate and House.  House Bill 898 would enable Georgia to rejoin the Interstate Compact for Juveniles that regulates how states transfer juveniles, usually status offenders, who fled home and are found in another state.  All 49 other states are Compact members and only Georgia is not a member, having dropped out in 2010.

The General Assembly is scheduled to end Thursday.  The Council on Criminal Justice Reform is expected to begin its new round of meetings this spring or early summer.  The Council’s January report included a five-year timetable for implementing and measuring reforms passed during the past two Legislatures.

Additional Resources:

Framework Established for 2014 Criminal Justice Reform

Georgia Poised to Rejoin Interstate Compact for Juveniles

“Ban the Box” discussion at Council on Criminal Justice Reform meeting:

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