Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Georgia Legislature needs to reconsider decriminalizing our 17 year old children.

17 and a criminal record for life.

I had the pleasure of listening to Former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan twice in the last week speak on how Georgia Laws negatively affect Georgia Teenagers as he outlined the archaic laws that by common sense, should be changed. The laws are detrimental to our youth, they devalue the criminal justice system in the State and are far too costly with no real benefit.

The way our political system works, it takes great courage for one person to push for change as there are worries of being called out as being "soft on crime". Over time the scales of justice tips to the breaking point and then we as a society need to reevaluate; I believe that time is now.

I wish Governor Nathan Deal, Attorney General Sam Olens and the leadership of the Georgia General Assembly were in attendance this evening because if they were; my dream would be that they would form a Blue Ribbon Panel of Experts together with a Special Joint Committee on Georgia Juvenile Justice Reform to use this next session to affect positive changes for the 17 year olds in our society by rolling back some of the laws this State currently has on the books.

If you watch the video at the bottom, former State Senator Dan Weber stood in the well to discuss aspects of the Romeo and Juliet Provision, but he was also crying out for changes to an unjust system and I now see the Former DeKalb County District Attorney, Mr. J. Tom Morgan doing the exact same thing. When you understand that Mr. Morgan has the experience of being forced to put kids away with no option of leniency and that he has the insight of an unjust judicial system, why is nothing more being done?
“There are only four states in the country that treat our teenagers as adults when they’re 17, and Georgia’s one of those four states,” said Morgan, who has spoken to many thousands of teenagers, was on the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, and chaired Georgia’s Child Abuse Prevention Panel.

“I testified before the Georgia legislature last year about raising that age to 18 to fit with the rest of the country, and I’ll never forget what the legislator said: ‘Oh Mr. Morgan, we can’t do that because we don’t want our constituents in Georgia to think we’re soft on crime.”

Morgan said he represented two girls—one 16, one 17—who together shoplifted less than $100 worth of CDs and DVDs from Target. Because one was lawfully an adult at the time, the crime was on her permanent record, while the 16-year-old didn’t have it on hers.

“You’re criminal history starts on your 17th birthday and stays with you until the day you die,” he said. “Don’t screw it up.”  (WestCobb Patch - March 2011)

Someone needs to start listening and instead of talking to just high school students, Mr. Morgan needs to talk to the Legislature one more time, but this time he needs the backing of the powers that be who need to come out in support of such changes.

Governor Deal if you are looking to leave a legacy, I can think of no nobler cause than being the instigator of juvenile criminal reform.  Please make it happen.


waterman said...

And what is Fran and Tom's position on this?

Sight Edman said...

The 17 vs 18 dividing line seems somewhat arbitrary, but no more than 17 vs 18. Everything said in this post would be just as appropriate if you changed the ages to 20 and 21. Or perhaps to 24 and 25 as that is when some say the child's brain is at long last fully baked and ready to come out of the oven.

The age below which the punishment should not fit the crime will always be contentious.

GaryRayBetz said...

Not sure I agree with you on this John. I actually believe they should lower the legal age of adulthood to 16 as that is when teens are allowed to drive.

If we are trusting 16 year olds with the privilege and responsibility of driving an automobile, which has potential to maim or kill others, then they should also have to pay the adult penalty of abusing that right. Either that or raise the driving age to 18. With adults privileges comes correlating grave responsibilities - that's just how it is.

Why is there concern all of a sudden about trying 17 year olds as adults any way? Is it because it is now starting to have an effect on the upper and middle class children as well? Hell, when I was young you were a man by middle school and during the Viet Nam War you could join up at 17, albeit they just wouldn't ship you over until you were 18. Because of this though they ended up lowering the voting and drinking age for us (though unfortunately the drinking age was eventually raised again).

Don't coddle these young adults as though they are still kids. We used to limit our crimes to misdemeanors because we knew we'd be penalized as adults otherwise. It was truly a deterrent.

The sooner young adults realize that their actions have ramifications and their parents impart this sober aspect of living in a society to them, then all the better for them and the rest of us.

But trust me - our brains were fully baked at 17 if not younger. Hell, it was the 60's!

dpgroupie said...

I'm not sure I understand this either John. I can only think of the teens who viciously attacked the community garden, to the tune of felony charges, but somehow managed to walk away with misdemeanor charges, small fines their parents probably paid (I wouldn't know though, because their parents have never spoken publicly about it), and a little community service during which I'm sure they said "yes ma'am, yes sir" to the adults. Until they were out of earshot. If a "child" doesn't have more respect by the time they're 17, well, looks like they'll have to learn the hard way. Unless they live somewhere like Dekalb County, have at least one attorney as a parent.....
Oh well. You should come over here some time when the skateboarders are flying through here - you wouldn't believe how easy it is for kids much younger than 17 to holler "FU" at adults who tell them to leave because they are on private property. Kids these days are growing up WAAAY faster than you realize!

John Heneghan said...

Waterman, don't know but I shot an email off to the Governor and members of General Assembly and received a reply from the Lt. Governor.

August 29, 2012

Dear John,

Thank you for contacting my office regarding your support of the juvenile code rewrite. Senator Bill Hamrick, Chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, has been very engaged in this issue and I support his efforts to make the juvenile code better. I am grateful for your opinion as it is always nice to hear from my constituents about the issues that matter to them most. Please feel free to reach out to my office at any time if you are ever in need of assistance. Thank you again for contacting me.


Casey Cagle
Lt. Governor of Georgia

I also saw that the on Friday Governor Deal appointed Senator Bill Hamrick to the Coweta Judicial Circuit therefore I am hopeful the new Chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee will pickup where Senator Hamrick left off.

Thank you to Sight Edman, GaryRay & DPGroupie for your comments and I understand where everyone is coming from; I personally would like to see a level playing field for GA 17 year old's be the same as the 17 yr olds in the 46 other states that uses 18.

GaryRayBetz said...

No issues, John. You're entitled to your opinion - no matter how wrong it might be, especially on your own blog.

Perhaps it was unfair of me to have commented anyway. My children are all past the age of the 17 year old demarcation, so I now have no dog in this fight.

However, I do feel that my Great Depression Era method of parenting worked fairly well. This included me insisting that if my children joined any type of team or organization they were in it to the end with no missed practices or games as long as they were ambulatory. Then I started charging them room and board at age 14 so they had to figure out an employment strategy to reimburse me (this extra money came in quite handy for me as liquor proved to be much more expensive in the South than it was back up in Chicago). And they always knew that if they were in trouble with the police or teachers that I was going to side with authority and whatever punishment mete out would be nothing compared to what I had in store for them.

But most effective was my patented inverse role-modeling, where I was such a dissolute, obnoxious, and cantankerous person, that they would do anything to prevent growing up to become as miserable as me; thus in their avoidance of this fate - they developed and lived within their own set of exemplary standards.