Prosecuting minors as adults in Dougherty Co.
Tue, 23 Nov 2010 21:19:43 GMT —
Armed Robbery. Rape. Aggravated sodomy. Aggravated sexual battery. Aggravated child molestation. Voluntary manslaughter. Murder.
These crimes are known as the 'Seven Deadly Sins' and in the state of Georgia, they automatically earn juveniles a date in criminal court as an adult.
Convictions carry mandatory sentences, forcing children as young as 13 to live among hardened, career criminals for 10 to 25 years - and sometimes for the rest of their lives.
"When a child is placed into the criminal justice system for such a long period of time, that is a practical reality that society has decided this person is, I guess, much more of a danger to society and has probably thrown the book away on rehabilitating this person," said Dougherty County D.A. Greg Edwards.
Prosecutors like Edwards see an increasing number of juveniles committing violent crimes.
The most common factors: gang activity and gang initiations.
"Unfortunately, one of the things that involves gang activity includes the notion that we'll send juveniles in to do certain crimes, like armed robbery, with the notion that they won't have the potential penalties that adults have," said Edwards
Many of the sex crimes committed by juveniles â" including child molestation â" also involve the gang lifestyle.
"The girl agrees to have sex with all of the gang members and sometimes it is forcibly and against their will,," said Edwards.
Bishop Frederick Williams of Gethsemane Worship Center spends much of his time counseling troubled juveniles.
"The young people have a trust issue," said Williams. "We're always talking to them, instead of with them."
Through organizations like 'Stop the Violence' and 'Parents for Change,' Williams pursues a hands-on approach to try and rescue children before they ever enter the criminal justice system.
He also sees gang life as a juvenile's surest path to prison.
"We got to be strong enough and assured of ourself enough to embrace them and say, 'hey, this is not acceptable,'" said Willaims.
One of the obstacles in rehabilitating juveniles in the adult system is the importance of gangs in prison life. Even for offenders who weren't involved in gangs on the outside, they often join a gang inside prison both for support and for the sake of their own survival.
"They have someone to talk to," said Edwards. "They give them discipline and give them a purpose."
"It kills all chance of surviving and then they become predators themselves," added Williams. "They become repeat offenders."
Subjecting juveniles to the same mandatory minimums as adults is a relatively new phenomenon, making it too early for any concrete data on recidivism rates or future criminal behavior.
But given that 67% of adults are rearrested for 'serious crimes' and 52% eventually return to prison, the outlook isn't promising.