Raise the Age

A group of Georgia lawmakers is contemplating raising the age limit for juvenile delinquency in the state.

Georgia is one of three states that still tries all 17-year-olds in adult court. State Rep. Mandi Ballinger filed a bill in 2019 legislative session that calls for a change in the law that would require most offenders younger than 18 to be considered juveniles. The bill stalled on the House floor earlier this year, but Ballinger wants the House Juvenile Justice Committee to review the bill Friday morning.

Jen Woolard, co-director and associate professor of Georgetown University’s Graduate Program in Developmental Science, will speak to the committee on adolescent brain development. Details of her presentation have not yet been released, and Ballinger, a former victim advocate, could not be immediately reached for comment.

House Bill 440 would only apply to juveniles who have not committed murder, sexual battery, armed robbery or other serious crimes.

There are currently 78 prisoners younger than 18 serving time in Georgia’s adult penal system, according to Georgia Department of Corrections numbers. The youngest is 16. At the time of admission into the prison, the youngest was 15 years old, according to the November report. 

About 82 percent of young prisoners are black. All of the offenders are serving time for a new sentence. Most of those crimes – about 85 percent are violent offenses. 

Thirty percent of the youth prisoners have committed armed robbery, and another 20 percent have committed aggravated assault. An average of 3 percent of the young offenders have committed less serious crimes like theft, however; the report does not specify if the crimes were committed in combination with others.

Critics argue that housing children in adult prisons increases mental illness, chances of recidivism and reduces success in school and the job market.

“Of all incarcerated people, youth held with adults are at the highest risk of sexual abuse; they are also 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile facilities, and are at a greater risk of being held in solitary confinement than they would be in juvenile facilities,” Maddy Troilo of Prison Policy Initiative wrote.

Only 34 of the 78 children currently in Georgia’s state prison have received a mental evaluation to date, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections’ report.

In the 2005 Supreme Court case Roper v. Simmons, the court ruled that a minor’s actions should not be considered evidence of an “irretrievably depraved character.”

Proponents of the direct filing of juveniles in adult court believed that it offers more security for victims and affords them the ability to be tried by a jury.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.