Georgia lawmakers will delete records of youthful offenders

Sherri Jefferson is an advocate, author, and an attorney. Transforming the lives of children is her passion. Transferring knowledge is her profession.

Governor Nathan Deal has a lot to celebrate as his tenure comes to an end in Georgia. His legacy includes increasing the number of judges on the Supreme Court of Georgia, adding additional judges to the superior courts throughout the state, transformation of Georgia’s criminal and juvenile justice system, and signing legislation to help victims of sex trafficking. His administration has taken steps to improve the quality of life for former offenders while protecting the public and saving taxpayers.
These transformations have not changed the age of youth who enter Georgia’s adult criminal justice system. Georgia remains one of the few states in the nation who automatically charge 17-year-old youth as adults, even for minor offenses. South Carolina and Louisiana passed “Raise the Age” legislation in 2016, and North Carolina enacted legislation this year. More than 44 states have chosen to “Raise the Age” to 18 to avoid penalizing youthful offenders.

Georgia is also one of a few states in America that only requires mandatory school attendance until the age of 16. These cracks in the system create an environment of criminality because there is a correlation between education and incarceration.
Governor Deal has time to change his legacy.

This session, Representative Wendell Willard, the chairman of the Georgia Judiciary Committee, and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard will lead the challenge to transform the lives of ex-offenders. Together, they will engage the members of the General Assembly and Governor Deal to consider deletion of records of former offenders.

In my book “Motor City,” I tackle the impact of the war on drugs, which has led to mass incarceration, calling for reform under a Fair Criminal Records Reporting Act, which like the Fair Credt Reporting Act, would delete histories. This process will give former offenders the opportunity to pursue a meaningful life after they have successfully completed their sentences and have remained out of the system for a period of time.

First Time Offender and expungement does not offer this opportunity because former offenders must report their arrest and conviction. Their histories are permanent records, which are available in background checks.

In Georgia, an 18-year old can default upon their credit and within seven years it is deleted from their credit report. This fresh starts enables people an opportunity to move past their misjudgments, but the same 18-year-old with a criminal record will be required to live with those consequences for the rest of their life.

I am pleased to hear that Rep. Willard and DA Howard will work together to enact legislation that will give former offenders a new slate at life.

In the past several years, I have engaged federal and state agencies to adopt this practice. Research has found that former offenders with a fair chance to transform their lives are less likely to reoffend. This approach protects communities and businesses while promoting and improving the lives of former offenders and their families.

Offering former offenders, a fair chance decreases the cost of confinement without jeopardizing public safety or suffering taxpayers with huge costs.

Through reducing dependency upon correctional facilities, Georgia can redirect its resources to community and faith-based initiatives. This process will save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Together, Wendell Willard, Paul Howard, and other prosecutors, defense attorneys, and legislators can work to reform the system and help 17-year-olds and former offenders. Together, they can give them a fair opportunity to improve the quality of their life.

Otherwise, Georgia will continue the cycle of impeding fair opportunities towards college education, military service, purchase of a home or leasing of an apartment. These basic prospects will be out of reach for thousands of Georgia’s citizens.

As Governor Deal ends his tenure as one of Georgia’s most progressive legislators, citizens look to his administration for relief as former offenders and 17-year-olds who fall prey to the adult system.

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