17-year-olds: Adults or Juveniles? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

17-year-olds: Adults or Juveniles?

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By Christian Jennings - bio | email

January 28, 2009

THOMASVILLE, GA (WALB) - 17-year olds can't buy a pack of cigarettes or a lottery ticket in Georgia.

But if they commit a crime, the justice system treats them as adults.

Now state lawmakers are considering a proposal to put 17-year-olds back under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

It's a controversial issue. Right now, Georgia is one of only 15 states where the criminal justice system treats 17-year-olds as adults.

But could that change? If a coalition of children's advocates have their way it will.

Many people want 17 year olds treated as juveniles and they're pushing their proposal on the Legislature.

"There are some pluses and minuses by making 17-year-olds back under jurisdiction of juvenile court," said Sgt. Steven Jones, School Resource Officer with the Thomas County Sheriff's Office.

"It's got its benefits and its risks both ways," said Attorney Katherine Smith.

Both Smith, who handles juvenile court prosecution for Thomas County and school resource officer Sgt. Steven Jones work with kids everyday.

Sgt. Jones says he's for the change, but is hesitant because of some of the heinous crimes he's seen kids that age commit.

"If they are placed back under the jurisdiction of juvenile court, they may need to look at sentencing guidelines for 17 year olds so the juvenile courts can do a little more with them," said Sgt. Jones.

Supporters of the change say teenagers funneled into the adult court and corrections system are more likely to commit other crimes later on.

ADA Katherine Smith disagrees.

"Their limited amount of time in jail where they come in, and get booked on an offense even stay 24 hours before they bond out is not going to make a big deal in making them a hardened criminal," said Smith.

She also argues that the change would create a big problem for juvenile court system.

"Due to budget constraints, and cutting of programs, theres not going to be resources and programs to deal with these older kids that need a lot more different attention than the smaller children do."

"This is a tough question that's been brought and if its brought to legislature its going to be an interesting to see the debate," said Sgt. Jones.

So what is  the right thing to do? Does sending a 17-year-old to jail push them over the edge and lead them to a life of crime? Or is it a wake up call that makes them never want to go back?

All Questions georgia leaders will have to answer. Feedback