Wyommie Mack, program manager for the Department of Juvenile Justice in Liberty, Long and Bryan counties, on Tuesday updated the Hinesville Rotary Club on reforms being made to the state juvenile justice system.
Mack, who has been working with youth offenders for more than 20 years, outlined the legislative reforms coming down the pike for the state system. House Bill 242, which recently passed the Georgia House and Senate, reads its purpose is to “promote a juvenile justice system that will protect the community, impose accountability for violations of law, provide treatment and rehabilitation, and equip juvenile offenders with the ability to live responsibly and productively.”
Lawmakers are trying to “preserve and strengthen family relationships” and ensure fair hearings are conducted, according to Mack.
Club member George Holtzman asked Mack how Liberty County is doing compared to other communities of the same size, in terms of how many youthful offenders are being served by the juvenile justice system.
“We’re doing well,” she said. “We fare far better when it comes to the numbers.”
In 2011, Liberty County’s DJJ had a total intake of 363 children. Four of them were placed in non-secure detention, 353 were remained at home awaiting adjudication and 37 were placed into secure detention at a Regional Youth Detention Center. Forty-three of these kids were younger than 12, 170 were age 13-15 and 163 juveniles were 16 years old and older. There were more boys than girls, 244 males to 119 females. The types of offenses they allegedly committed also were tallied. Twenty-eight kids were in the system for alleged drug-related offenses, 74 for alleged property crimes, 72 for alleged violent crimes and 41 for alleged traffic offenses.
Seventy-seven children were in the juvenile justice system in 2011 for allegedly committing status offenses. A status offender can only be a child, not an adult, Mack said. Status offenses might define a child as “unruly or incorrigible,” she said, such as a runaway or a child who refuses to attend school.
Mack said local DJJ personnel work closely with law enforcement, the schools, agencies like DFACS and mental-health professionals. This, in turn, helps the juvenile-court judge make well-informed decisions.
Mack outlined the procedures the DJJ must take when a child enters the system. The whole process, from intake to a hearing before a judge, must occur within 48 hours, she said.
Juveniles in the system are assessed to see if they are in need of treatment or rehabilitation, she said. Not all juvenile offenders require lengthy detentions. Many are sent back home with their parents. Some can be placed under house detention and monitored with ankle monitors if necessary, she said.
Other juveniles must make restitution, which can be in the form of community service, Mack said.
Juveniles aged 13-17 who commit heinous crimes can be charged as adults, according to Georgia Senate Bill 440, which was passed into law in 1994, according to Mack.
“We call them the deadly seven,” she said of the seven serious offenses. These include murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation and robbery if committed with a firearm.