Gov. Deal signs in new juvenile justice reforms

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, May 2, 2013

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. (File / WRDW-TV)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Sweeping changes are coming to Georgia's juvenile justice system. Gov. Nathan Deal made it all official when he signed a new law on Thursday.

"The juvenile court has definitely been in need of an overhaul for years," said Judge Doug Flanagan of Columbia County's juvenile court. "So they've had complete overhaul, the first time in 41 years."

Judge Flanagan is talking about House Bill 242, signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Nathan Deal.

A major change is that kids who commit what are called status offenses, like skipping school and running away from home, aren't automatically locked up.

"It's very expensive to keep a child in custody compared to an adult," Flanagan explained. "An adult runs in the 30's to keep an adult in the system. And juveniles run about $90,000."

But this isn't just about saving money for Flanagan.

"Children can be changed," he said. "The majority of children can be changed if you intervene early enough."

And with 13 years on the bench, he would know.

He also likes the law isn't just about punishment. It gives the courts more options for treatment.

"CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates. We are assigned every juvenile court case where a child has been abused or neglected in the Augusta judicial circuit," explained Dan Hillman, executive director of Child Enrichment Inc.

Hillman has worked with abused children for more than 30 years.

He likes the law, too, but says it's too little too late for a lot of kids.

"Legislation like this took over five years. Five years is too long. Think about all the children that went through the system that didn't get the benefits of what's in this law," he said.

But for kids in the system now, Flanagan says the benefits will end up benefiting all of us.

"The less children that we put in confinement, and the more children we can change, the better off society will be," he said.

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