Over the past few months, Georgia lawmakers have made great strides in their quest to achieve comprehensive reform of the juvenile criminal justice system. As part of this trend, Governor Nathan Deal signed Senate Bill 367 into law. The bill, which was based primarily on recommendations made by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, works to address the school to prison pipeline, which has led to a stark increase in the number of incarcerated youths in Georgia. The law aims to decrease the number of juveniles who are funneled from their schools into the criminal justice system by requiring schools to implement additional disciplinary methods before involving local law enforcement.
Senate Bill 367
The new law made significant changes to the juvenile justice system by:
- Increasing incarcerated youths’ access to charter schools;
- Restricting secure detention for all youths under the age of 13 years old, with the exception of those charged with serious offenses or where a public safety issue exists; and
- Adjusting laws regarding public school disruption to ensure that cases involving students are handled by the disciplinary process and not a youth detention center or delinquent facility.
Requirements for Local Education Boards
The bill also attempts to reduce the number of youths being charged with disrupting the operation of a public school. Although this law was initially intended to discourage adults from disruptive behavior while on public school campuses, it has consistently been used to charge students.
Local education boards are now required to develop a system of progressive discipline before initiating a complaint that a youth was disrupting a public school. When a complaint is filed, it must contain certain information demonstrating that the board attempted to:
- Resolve the problem through educational approaches; and
- Engage the child’s parent or guardian to resolve the problem, but that individual was unable or unwilling to resolve the problem.
Senate Bill 367 also requires the State Board of Education to draft regulations requiring minimum qualifications for juvenile hearing and disciplinary officers. Furthermore, when a local school system employs law enforcement officers on school grounds, the local board of education must create a collaborative written agreement with the officers in order to:
- Establish the role of police officers and school employees in school disciplinary matters; and
- Ensure that there is coordination between officials, agencies, and programs involved in school discipline.
Research reveals that the school to prison pipeline increases recidivism in youths and significantly contributes to the state’s increasing prison population. By saddling juveniles with a criminal record and incarcerating them at such a young age, teenagers are exposed to traumatic environments that further alienate them. Although the new law is a step in the right direction, thousands of youths are still unfairly charged and put in jail every year. If your child was unfairly charged with a crime as a result of a school discipline problem, please contact Ford Law at 404-373-9881 or complete one of our standard online contact forms and a member of our dedicated legal team will help you schedule a consultation.