“To do this work, you have to believe that there is good in children. It’s one of the things that keeps most of us going, because there are losses day after day after day. You have to redefine what win is for sure, and there are losses and there are failures and there are kids who get sent off for life and there are ... the ones that make you keep coming back, the ones who are successful, the ones who are in college now…
We can't quit on the 15-year-old just because they're making it hard on us… It is imperative that we do right by them because nobody else has yet, and I think that's why we all do this. I think that's certainly why I do this, because everybody else has quit on them. Somebody's got to keep it going.”
Randee serves as Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic at Emory Law School in Atlanta. Raised in New York City by parents who were public school teachers, she knew by the time she was in sixth grade that she wanted to be a lawyer. In this interview, she talks about her background and career, her early experiences as a New Yorker in the South as an attorney and a professor setting up the juvenile defender clinic at Emory, the current state of juvenile justice in Georgia (and nationally), what it’s like to work with law students who are learning how to work with youth clients, and why she’s committed to securing better outcomes for youth in the justice system.
Interview with Randee, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on August 31, 2017 in Atlanta, GA.
Joann: "Tell me what your name is and what you do and kind of where we are right now."
Randee: "My name's Randee Waldman. I'm the director of the Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic at Emory Law School. We are sitting in the student space at the Juvenile Defender Clinic's office in a building at Emory University."
Joann: "So tell me ... Let's start off with your background because that way we can work up chronologically. Tell me a little just how you got started in this kind of ... Why is it that you were led in this direction in your life?"
Randee: "Oh. That's a ..."
Joann: "That's a different question."
Randee: "That’s a very different question."
Joann: "Yeah, it is. I want to know the why."
Randee: "So my parents were high school teachers and I was always told I couldn't be a teacher because my parents were high schools teachers in inner city New York City public school. I decided in sixth grade that law was where I was going to go because I liked to argue a lot so people told me I should go into law, but I don't think I knew what that meant, but nonetheless law was where I was going to go and I was committed to it. Went through high school committed. Went through college committed. I was going to law school."
"My college advisors tried to convince me that you shouldn't go straight to law school right after college because that's a really bad idea but I was like, "No. Law. What else am I going to do for two years? Why would I go somewhere else?" So I went straight to law school. I went to University of Chicago Law School looking to get back to a city, looking to get back to [inaudible 00:01:53] but also because Chicago had a wonderful reputation for their clinical programs, and they have a program called the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at Chicago that has a number of different clinical offerings and projects within it, and they said, "You'll get in by your second year and you'll be able to do clinic through your third year." I was like, "Great. Sign me up." They had a lottery system at the time, and they've changed the way it works, and my lottery luck's not so great so I was number 150 on the lottery, which meant I wasn't getting in so early, but there's a way around that, which is you work for them over the summer."
"So I applied to work for the criminal justice project my 1L summer pretending all along that that was what I knew that I always wanted to do with my life. I was somehow convinced them that that was true. I have no idea if that was really true but somebody believed me, and I started doing juvenile justice work with the crim justice project at the Mandel Clinic, and I decided that that really was what I wanted to do, and I worked there my 1L summer, my 2L year as a student, my 2L summer I split between a law firm and the juvenile law center in Philadelphia. My 3L year during the year and then my 3L summer I came back while studying for the bar and then for the month of August after the bar, and I just sort of hung out in the crim justice project doing juvenile justice work and it's what I decided that I was going to do."
"Took a detour. Went to a law firm for three years. That was a planned three-year stint to pay off the loans, get experience, get training, and then told my friends along the way that I was going to leave in three years and that January 2001 was my target date, and then it was September. I was like, "Oh. January's almost here. I should start looking for a job," and with my last bonus check that year, I paid off my last loan and found a job at a place called Advocates for Children of New York, which is an educational advocacy organization working with at-risk youth in all areas of at-risk youth, special education, school discipline, policy work, impact litigation, direct representation really covering all areas of at-risk youth."
"Did work with the juvenile justice population while I was there, but it wasn't my primary responsibility. It wasn't what I was doing. All day I was working with a variety of populations and was looking to get back into juvenile justice work but was also looking to do clinical legal education, trying to do mentorship programs, which I was doing in the non-profit as a supervisor and running interim programs and running pro bono programs, but I really wanted to get back into the teaching aspect of it as well and combine those two things and came here to Emory in June of 2006 and founded the Juvenile Defender Clinic. So that's the sixth grade through ..."
Randee: "2006, and I've been here ever since. I've been here ... This is the start of my 12th year."
Joann: "So when you were working at the non-profit in New York, what were the trends? What were the things that you were seeing most often with your clientele that were ... ?"
Randee: "There was a lot, and we really represented the gamut in at-risk for educational failure. We worked with severely disabled youth. We worked with overaged, under credit youth. We worked with discipline kids. The cases that we were working on that I was most involved in, we were doing some work towards the end on push-out litigation where schools at the time were really forcing kids out and that was probably as a result of No Child Left Behind and testing scores, and schools were really forcing them into GED programs and out of their school so they didn't count towards their numbers on their school, and we filed litigation against three different schools in New York and had some settlements and effective change maybe in that area."
"Special education, a lot of that was around discipline as well. We had a litigation, an impact litigation case around exclusionary practices and policies with discipline. There are some protections that are supposed to be followed with special education kids, and they weren't all ... A lot of kids being told, "Don't come tomorrow," but not actually officially being suspended, kids being segregated into self-contained classrooms instead of getting the services they needed, and we were doing a lot of work around that as well."
Joann: "What percentage of the clients that you were serving in these areas had some sort of a juvenile system, juvenile justice involvement?"
Randee: "We have an entire project on juvenile justice so that the juvenile justice involved kids were funneled to our juvenile justice project, which was a separate litigation. There was both an impact litigation case that was happening on the juvenile justice kids, but also what we were trying to do was get cases that were coming from the court system. We had a collaborative relationship in one of the family courts in New York ... There's a classroom outside. They're moving chairs."
"We had a collaborative relationship with one of the family court judges in a couple of cases as well as with legal aid and their youthful offender project where our goal was to try and solve delinquency, and by that I mean try and provide alternatives to the judges to incarceration and detention by solving education, by finding good, stable educational alternatives that would help alleviate the delinquency that we'd sometimes find in residential education placements as an education placement instead of as a delinquency placement and really trying to solve delinquency. If you fix a child's education, if you get a child reading and stable in school, they are much more likely to be successful and stay out of trouble and stay out of the justice system, and that's what we were trying to do."
"I wasn't ... We had a staff attorney dedicated entirely to that project. I supervised that staff attorney, but they weren't necessarily my clients. We also had two AmeriCorps advocates who were working intensively with that project when I was there."
Joann: "How successful do you think you were doing that?"
Randee: "I think we had really good success on and off. It's a really difficult population. It remains a really difficult population. When you start trying to intervene in a kid's school life when they're 15, it's a very different outcome than when you start trying to intervene in their school life when they're 10 or 11, and so we had enormous success with some kids who just completely turned it around. We found them the right school. We found them the right services, and they were high school graduates and completely and totally successful, and some kids, we were probably ... we were just too late. No matter how much you try to find the right program, A, it's hard to find but B, it's hard to teach somebody to read when they're at that level, at that time."
Joann: "How receptive were the judges to this kind of approach?"
Randee: "We had projects specifically with a couple of the judges, so they were very receptive to that. They would refer cases to us. It was a collaborative effort between us and the family court judges and the youthful offender judges were also pretty receptive. It was a design with judges, and they were ... For kids for whom their underlying offense wasn't terribly serious or for kids for whom they really thought there was an opportunity, they were very receptive."
Joann: "What about the responses from the school districts and the prosecutors about what you were trying to do? So if ..."
Randee: "We weren't in family court. We got the cases through the ... So it's a little bit hard to tell. We were a little bit removed from that process of being with the prosecutors. We would get the referrals. We would be educational advocates for the kid, and then their defense attorney would take over from that prospect and we would sometimes come testify about what was happening, but that wasn't our arena. The school districts, the New York City School District is enormous. Advocates For Children is one of the leading non-profit organizations doing educational work in New York City. Our justice kids were a really small portion of our case load. They weren't the only kids we were filing due process complaints on. They weren't the only kids we were doing hearings on. They weren't the only kids we were seeking residential for. They were as receptive on those kids as they were on any other client we brought to them. So they don't, they didn't ... I don't think they knew which kids were the delinquency kids and which kids were justice involved kids."
Joann: "Cool. So you came here in 2006, so you established the Juvenile Defender Clinic. When you were first starting out, who were your influences, your inspirations, your mentors, the people that you looked to that ... Where did your ideas come from about how to go about doing it this way that you wanted to do it?"
Randee: "My original clinicians from Chicago, Herschel [O'Conyars 00:13:02] and Randolph Stone, were the mentors, the people I was trying to be when I grew up. I'm still trying to be them when I grow up. That was my vision was let's recreate that and let's create it here. Right before I started here I was a little bit fortunate. I was starting here in June and there's an annual clinic conference that happens every May, and that year I was still working at Advocates For Children but the conference was in New York so I was able to attend the conference. Emory paid for me to attend the conference, but I was home and working so I didn't really have to take off. I would just sort of head over there for the day."
"At that conference, there are big sessions, [inaudible 00:13:50] sessions, break-out sessions on clinic pedagogy and how you actually form clinics, but they're also break-out groups that meet once a day just with other juvenile justice clinicians, and there are a countless number of juvenile justice clinicians that I met through that project. May Quinn was one of them. I don't remember if I met her that first year, but I met her pretty early. It turns out she also grew up in Stanton Island, which is where I grew up, and so ... and had worked in legal aid in New York and so we sort of met pretty early on in this process."
"Randy Hertz is a guru of juvenile justice clinical education. He's one of the people who, even though he's at NYU, even though I hadn't met him, didn't know who he was and he had no idea who I was, I was told to call him when I was looking for jobs when I was transitioning to the non-profit, and is the one who actually connected me to Advocates For Children back in the day. I met him and started talking to him through the process. There are a handful of tenured 15, 20-year, been doing this for a long time clinicians in juvenile delinquency who were just instrumental in trying to figure out how this gets done."
Joann: "So what were your ... When you came to Georgia, how was it different from New York?
Randee: "How was it not different from New York is a much bigger question. It's culture shock. I am a New Yorker, and I went to undergrad outside Philly and I went to law school in Chicago, and I live in Georgia now, and that is not New York. The very first case I observed ... When I first moved here, I just started to sit in on court for a while to figure out what's different and how it looks, and the very first case I saw that first day I was in juvenile court, I saw a kid get placed on probation for having a pack of cigarettes in his pocket, and I was dumbstruck by how far apart I was from New York City's juvenile justice system. The justice system is different."
"There are similarities. It is still overrepresented by ... it is still ... Every child I see in juvenile court in DeKalb County is black. Every kid I saw in New York was black or Hispanic or in some other minority represented. There are some similarities in that, but just the overwhelming ... It's a harsher feeling. I think part of that is city versus a little bit less. DeKalb is kind of city, but we're not. We're a little further removed from true city living. I interviewed my very first client at the detention center when I first moved here, and I'd been working with kids for a decade and I did not understand a word he said. Not a word. I had [inaudible 00:17:06] Southern, spoke in a different dialect, the slang was different. We were having a conversation. He was trying to give me a name and I was like, "Say that again," like four times. I was like, "Spell it." He's like, "J-O-N." I'm like, "Oh, Jon." I just didn't understand a word that was ... I didn't know anything. It's like I was thrown into a whole new world.
Joann: "So obviously from ... Tell me a little bit about what your clinic priorities were going to be in terms of ... or the majority of the types of offenses, the types ... What were your priorities in terms of your work with the kids?"
Randee: "The goal remains two-fold. We have two clients. My clients are both the clients who are in juvenile court but also the law students. My goal with the law students is to train them to be good lawyers and also train them to be conscious of the system and the system's effects. Some of my law students go on and become either juvenile defenders or public defenders or non-profit public interest lawyers. Some of them go to work at big corporations, and some of them go to work at big law firms, and the goal is that when they leave here, they will be better lawyers but also they will be better citizens. When they see a newspaper article about something, they won't immediately think, "Oh man, we should lock them up for the rest of their lives." They will have a background and a ... thought process of, "Oh, but I know what really happens in the system, and this probably isn't it," and they will be able to influence legislators and they will be able to have normal conversations about what the system is like that is different than what's portrayed in the media even if they were never going to do this."
"For the clients, the goals was to provide the best possible holistic legal representation we can provide, and by holistic I mean we want to represent them in their court case, but we also want to try and figure out how to break the cycle of delinquency because just representing them in their court case will help but it won't do that. Just keeping a kid out of the system usually for the vast majority of kids will keep them out of the system for life, but there are some kids who need redirection, rehabilitation. That doesn't always come best from the court system. The court system has many, many flaws, and so our goal was to do what we could to intervene in other areas. My best focus on that was education because that's where my background is. For every one of our delinquency children who have school-related issues, we will represent them in their discipline hearing and we will represent them at special education hearings if they have any of those needs."
Joann: "So when you talk about when you ... Could you talk a little bit about the court system, the way the system is set up? What is the state of juvenile justice in Georgia today?"
Randee: "We represent kids in our juvenile court system. In Georgia, you are a juvenile until you turn 17. At 17, you are automatically an adult. That means that virtually every one of our high school seniors is an adult for purposes of criminal prosecution in the state of Georgia, so any school fight, any misdemeanor marijuana offense, anything that happens, kid-like behavior in schools brings them into our adult system. We have certain offenses that can bring you into the adult system under the age of 17. We commonly refer to that as S.B. 440 because it's the Senate bill that was passed that created the offenses. It was passed in the mid-1990s when the super predator was prevalent and out there in the world."
"There were seven. This year we added two more. There are now nine. The primary offenses that the original ones are murder, armed robbery with a firearm, rape, voluntary manslaughter, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation, and aggravated sodomy, and this year we added aggravated battery and aggravated assault with firearms against law enforcement. Those cases you can be brought, you can be in the adult system starting at age 13. There's some voluntary motions to transfer that are discretionary that can happen depending upon the offense either starting at 13 although for the vast majority of them it's starting at 15 also. Most cases if you're under 17 are going to be in the juvenile court."
"As a clinic, we generally only represent kids in juvenile court. For some of my long-term kids who find their way in one of the S.B. 440 cases, I will oftentimes co-counsel those cases with the public defender's office or with their attorney. I don't usually have students on the front-end of those cases although they'll sometimes do back-end work of reviewing, discovery, and drafting motions, but they're not out front on those cases like they are on all of the other cases."
Joann: "With the S.B. 440 nine offenses, is there any way to reverse that or provide special exceptions?"
Randee: "For some of those there's a reverse waiver provision. For others, there is not. Murder, rape, armed robbery with a firearm cannot come back down to juvenile court unless the prosecutor agrees to send it back down to juvenile court. You can't have a hearing in front of a judge and convince them. For the others, either the prosecutor can agree to send it back or you can have a hearing in front of a judge and a judge can send it back."
Joann: "Okay, so that's all the criminal side and the way that works. In terms of the juvenile side, what is the standard operation? I mean you talked about the kid getting probation for the cigarettes in his pocket. How have things changed or not changed in the past 11 years that you've seen?"
Randee: "We had a new code rewrite in 2014 that was a long-standing process. It actually started my first year here back in 2006. There's an organization and Barton was part of the lead organizations that were working on this. Resulted in 2014 in part with as part of the governor's criminal justice reform efforts, which were passed in 2013. 2014 there was juvenile justice reform with a complete and total rewrite of our juvenile code. There are some major improvements and some things that still need a lot of work to do. One of the biggest improvements was mandatory counsel for kids in proceedings. Most kids in most proceedings. There's some exceptions but there was an assessment done by the National Juvenile Defenders Center in 2005, and in that assessment there were some counties that were as high as 80% of kids waive their right to counsel."
"The code now prohibits waiver of your right to counsel in most circumstances. There's a caveat. You can waive counsel if your liberty is not in jeopardy. That's an undefined term. Some judges believe that your liberty is always in jeopardy when you're in juvenile court, and so there's never the opportunity to waive counsel. Some judges thinks that only means if you're eligible for detention time, which means you can only waive counsel in misdemeanor cases. That's a little bit of a distinction, but the vast majority of kids are now represented in juvenile court whereas in some counties before, the vast majority of kids were not represented. Our most serious offenses, the penalties also decreased for a category of some of our most serious offenses. These are probably the two biggest results that came out of juvenile justice reform in 2014."
Joann: "So sentencing decreases or penalty decreases and representation."
Randee: "And representation."
Joann: "Who represents them?"
Randee: "The vast majority of kids are represented by public defenders. In our clinic, the kids are all represented by third year law ... or second and third year law students now. It used to be a third year practice act. Georgia now allows a student practice act that allows second year students to participate. I am the attorney of record for each of the cases, but they are authorized to provide legal representation. They are authorized to appear in court on their behalf so long as I'm in the room, and they do all of that. They are first chair on our cases. They go out. They interview their clients without me. For the vast majority of our clients I meet them at court for the very first time because all of their contact has been with the law students through the process."
Joann: "Can you talk about the steps that you take, the types of training that these students get in order to understand the difference between representing a juvenile versus representing an adult?"
Randee: "It's an experiential process, so it's a learning experience on the go from the day they start. We do an orientation for the 2Ls who haven't done our trial techniques program here at the law school. I do a little mini trial skills boot camp that would be the same if they were an adult or a juvenile, but that's really just the basics of how do you appear in court. We do an orientation program before the semester starts that talks about some of the cultural differences, but also talks about what it's like to be represented by somebody. We do some ice breaker exercises where another student has to talk about the other student ... Right. They talk about each other as they're presenting to a judge, making you sort of feel as though you're in the place of a client for a quick minute."
"We do some cross-cultural competency work throughout the course of the semester, but we start that at the orientation program. We do the basics of how do you read a file and what do you do with it? What are your first steps? Early on in the semester ... We're in week two and we've done all of that. We did an ethics session on just what are the legal ethics of representing kids, what are the rules about confidentiality? What's the difference between the kid and the parent and who's rights do you ... who do you represent? The answer being the kid, and we've done so far two sessions on how to interview [inaudible 00:29:32]. We did a session on adolescent brain development and a session on how do you interview children and how is that different, and they all got their first clients and the first two teams, one team should be done and one team should be at their client's house in the next 45 minutes, and then the other two teams are still working on it."
Joann: "Could you just go over briefly ... I mean obviously you don't need to teach me what they learn, but what are ... Kind of distill the basics about the adolescent brain science and how they relate to them as children, like what their ... That's a difficult thing I think for probably most attorneys who haven't done juvenile work."
Joann: "It's not the adult that you're representing, and what does that mean if the child is maybe uninformed or ... ?"
Randee: "All of our meetings with ... We work through the parent because you have to get through the parent in order to get to the kid. There are also some release forms and stuff that only the parent can sign, so we work through the parent, but then the contact after that is solely with the kid. We don't let the parent be in the room for that interview. There are legal reasons but there are also practical reasons. When the parent is in the room, they answer for the kid. When the parent is in the room, the kid doesn't want to tell you everything because they don't want to do it in front of their parent. There are also legal reasons with respect to privilege on why a parent shouldn't be in the room during that conversation."
"The difference, kids do a really bad job with narratives. What happened? "We were walking down the hall and then I punched him and then I went to lunch," and there's like 100 things that happened between those. That's like an hour, and so we talk about narrative. We talk about how to draw out a narrative. We talk about how to use cues, how to use time references because everything happened like, I don't know, a minute ago. A minute is somewhere between four seconds and 30 years. I don't know what a minute is, but it's any one of those things can be applicable depending upon the circumstances. So we talk about time cues. Was it before lunch or after lunch? Was it when it was light out or when it was dark out? Was it before Christmas or after Christmas, depending upon what we're trying to get at them."
"We talk about when you trying to understand a scene, I try and get my clients to draw a lot of things because they are usually better at visual representations than in describing where things are. We talk about making sure. Kids will often say, "Yes," to the question of, "Do you understand" no matter how much they don't understand, so we talk about instead of asking, "Do you understand" where they say yes and then coming back and saying, "What did I just say," where you then caught them in a lie. Avoiding the confrontational moment and asking them to rephrase using ..."
"I create a lot of pros and cons charts when kids are trying to make decisions because they're not used to making their own decisions, particularly important ones, and they are in charge of making certain decision like whether they go to trial or take a plea, and it's hard. Their answer is always, "What do you think I should do" or, "Let me ask my mom what I should do," and it's none of our decision. It's their decision, so we do visual charts and pros and cons and we write them down on sheets of paper and we let them think about them and identify what they are. So a lot of those things ... Some of that you have to do with adult clients too, but the vast majority of this is really very specific to working with a kid as you're trying to make really tough decisions as 13, 14, and 15-year-olds."
Joann: "So what is the brain science that explains why you have to do this stuff?"
Randee: "Kids don't have a prefrontal cortex yet. They're controlled primarily by the limbic system, which is their emotional response system, which is the back part of the brain and develops well before the front part of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is the executive functioning part. It's what allows us to think about long-term consequences. It's what allows us to not be quite so impulsive. It's what allows us to make rational thoughts and decisions. It's sort of the emotional regulator, the part of the brain that actually ... It's like the control center of what's actually happening, and it's not fully developed until 25."
Joann: "So ... Oh whoops. I'm looking at the wrong notes. Here we go."
Randee: "I didn't get notes."
Joann: "These are the notes that in my previous interview with you over the telephone that I jotted down. I have notes from our conversation and I have bio notes on you. So ... talk about the implementation of the juvenile code across all of these different jurisdictions that are represented in the state of Georgia and why it might look different in one court as opposed to another court."
Randee: "Georgia has 159 counties. That's a lot. I think it's second most maybe. In the 159 counties, there are 10 judicial circuits. Some counties, some judicial circuits are made up of one county. DeKalb County is the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit, and that's it. Some of them are made up of seven, eight, or nine counties. Some have one judge. Some have four judges. Some have one judge that rides the entire circuit, and it's the same judge for each circuit. We don't have ... We have a code that guides the broad structures of it, but we don't have a uniform court act. We also, we have a statewide public defender system, but we allow some counties to opt out of the statewide public defender system, which means there are some counties that don't have a public defender office but instead have contract attorneys, court lists that are administered by the judge rather than by a public defenders office. Some counties have opted out of the system but created their own public defender office without being part of the state, so there are a lot of different ways that things work. There are also a lot of different states. Again, it gets somewhat complicated in minutia, but we have both independent, dependent, and hybrid dependent counties on the Department of Juvenile Justice."
"Some counties have their own probation staff and court staff that handles intake, that handles probation, that handles some of the local services, and some rely on DJJ, the Department of Juvenile Justice to handle all of that. How things operate on the ground in different levels depends a lot on those individual people and how that works. We also have the goal of the new code reform was to bring us in line with best practices and to do a more thorough job of keeping kids out of the detention centers, in the communities, and have community-based services, but the code gives a lot of leeway and discretion to our judges, and some judges have bought the science more so than other judges, and with a broad brush of discretion, you get very disparate outcomes depending upon where you are and who your judge is and what their own philosophies are with respect to the system but also with respect to what services exist within their community."
"If there are a lot of community-based services and alternatives to detention, you're looking at a different outcome than if there aren't any services or communities in some of our more rural places. So there's a lot of factors that go into ultimately what happens to a kid because for some kids, the outcome could be anywhere from they go home to they spend five years, and one judge might decide five years is the way to go and one judge might decide home is the way to go or anywhere on that spectrum."
Joann: "I guess technically once you're 17, you're 17, right?"
Joann: "Is there any sort of a dual diagnosis approach or any sort of an approach that takes into account that adolescence extends to the age of 25?"
Randee: "Not yet."
Randee: "We're working on that. That's one of the policy issues that Barton is trying to work on, which is trying to recognize the youthful offender, which is really up until 25 at this point. We have a largely unused and not very robust youthful offender act right now, but it doesn't really cover the vast majority of cases where kids are up until the age of 25. Certainly it doesn't cover our ... The vast majority of kids who are under 25 including the 17-year-olds we talked about with school fights. They're adults. They're charged in the adult system. They receive the adult sanctions. They receive adult jail time. They go into county and gen pop right away. That's it, and so part of the policy initiatives that we're trying to work on as the Barton Center as a whole, the Juvenile Defender Clinic is a project of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center, which has legislative and policy advocacy as well. One of the areas we're trying to work on as a larger group is the youthful offender initiative."
Joann: "Can you talk a little bit about status offenses and what that looks like for a 17-year-old who's in jail? I mean I guess technically they're not status offenses-"
Randee: "The 17 year ... The status offenses themselves, running away, curfew violation, truancy, are still in juvenile court. Juvenile court age jurisdiction defines criminal offense, prosecution, as under 17, but status offense jurisdiction is under 18. So if you're ... You can actually, right ... If you actually, if you smoke a blunt, you're in adult court, but you can't leave mom's house without permission because then you're a runaway, and then we drag you into juvenile court. Old enough to commit a crime, but not old enough to be out after midnight in curfew violations, to drop out of school without your mom's permission, or to run away."
Joann: "There was something that you just ... Oh. So these ... Back to the idea of the youthful offender protections, what is in place now? How are the S.B. 440 kids handled up until that age of 17? I mean say they go through their case. They get some sort of a sentence saying they have to go to an adult prison."
Randee: "For the S.B. 440 cases, the way it works in the vast majority of circumstances is that they're housed in the juvenile facility until their 17th birthday. If they are awaiting trial while they turn 17, that morning of their 17th birthday, they are transported to county jail while awaiting trial. If they are convicted before they're 17, they'll stay ... The vast majority of kids, there are some exceptions, where they can send them earlier, but the vast majority of kids will stay in the DJJ facilities until they turn 17, and then when they turn 17, they'll be transported straight to the department of corrections facility. So for the vast majority of kids, 17 is really a magic number whether it's when they commit their offense or when they turn 17 in the system, they get sent to our county jails."
"For our county jails, 17 is really gen pop. We don't keep our 17 years separate from our adults. For the department of corrections as compared to our county jails, they actually do have a separate youth unit, one for the boys, one for the girls. The boys go to Burruss. The girls go to Lee Arrendale, and they're housed in a separate unit regardless of whether they were S.B. 440 kids or just committed their run of the mill crime the day they ... on their 17th birthday. They'll stay in a segregated unit at Burruss or Lee Arrendale until their 18th birthday when they'll enter gen pop."
Joann: "Uh ..."
Randee: "It's weird because you could actually be in gen pop in the jail and then go to the segregated unit at Burruss and then go back to gen pop after 18."
Joann: "Is there any sort of concerned citizen push to try to raise the age, or is that just something that's not really a priority in terms of legislative reform?"
Randee: "Well, those are two different questions. Yes, there's a push. There is ..."
Joann: "[crosstalk 00:44:11] Sorry about that."
Randee: "There is a push. There is a movement in Georgia. We're one of few. The Raise the Age movement has been pretty national, and with varying degrees of success in other jurisdictions. There's a bill that's been introduced by Mary Margaret Oliver. She is intent on raising the age to 18. It did not get much play last year in the legislative session. I anticipate ... Well, we're in a two-year legislative session, so it's still on the table. It still exists. I think she's trying to get somewhere with it. What the political appetite for that is a very different question, and I'm not sure we're quite there yet."
Joann: "So what do you think are the next potential reforms to be made that there is some political appetite for?"
Randee: "I think Raise the Age is on the table for sure. I'm not sure political appetite. The political appetite might have been exhausted with crim justice reform in 2014, but some ... The things that we're talking about, Raise the Age, youthful offender, again I don't know how much that's going to carry. I don't know where that's going to go, but it's things that are being talked about. Some sort of parole eligibility that's a little bit different that looks a little bit different for the S.B. 440 kids. Again, taking into account the fact that they were young when their offenses happened. A lot of the S.B. 440 offenses come with no parole. That was the companion SP441, so you serve every day. Some issues, but they're all the same issue, which is what do we do now that we recognize that youth is different, kids are different. Supreme Court's been telling us this for a while. What do we do with it?"
"The advocates, the advocacy community, the public defender community, not the legislative policy folks, are really working on the constitutionality of some of the extended long life sentences on S.B. 440, on constitutional challenges to S.B. 440. Again, whether those go anywhere today, probably not today, but this slow, steady push to try and make dents based on what's happening nationally and what's happening around the world, around the country with our US Supreme Court taking charge and leading the way, hopefully can start to push back on where we ended up getting to really as a result of the mid-1990s."
Joann: "What institutions, what agencies in the state of Georgia have taken up that mantle of we're going to do these suits, we're going to push for these kind of constitutional violations that are present in the S.B. 440 or what have you?"
Randee: "I think these are happening on individual public defender levels."
Randee: "They're not ... Yeah. I think they're happening in individual cases from individual public defenders rather than on a systemic advocacy organization push. From a policy perspective, there are organizations that are working on it, but from the actual individual advocacy, it's really happening case by case through public defender conversations, through networking, through just really pushing these cases one at a time."
Joann: "You've talked about judges, discretion, interpretation, how that plays out in practice at the practices. Could you talk a little bit about the kind of ... What is happening in terms of the district attorney's office and across the state that you don't want to ... You don't have to talk about all of it, but I want to hear a little bit about prosecutorial discretion and perhaps you can, instead of ... I'll let you take the lead. I mean because obviously there are negative sides and there are hopefully some positive sides."
Randee: "Prosecutors have a good deal of charging discretion but also have a lot of control ultimately over what happens, particularly in the S.B. 440 realm or any decision to bring a case to the adult system. There's a ... I left this out at the early stages, but there's some concurrent jurisdiction between juvenile court and superior court where prosecutors get to decide where a case is filed. There's charging decisions that make things exclusive jurisdiction or not depending upon how they get charged, but then in the biggest realm, the prosecutor has the biggest role to play in whether a case comes back down to juvenile court or not. They have the biggest role to play in whether a kid gets life or not, and what their sentencing outcomes are through the plea negotiation process. So good prosecutors ... I tell students this. I have a number of students who go into prosecutors office. Good prosecutors who understand the adolescent brain development, who understand best practices, who understand what it means to a kid to be thrust into our adult system, to be thrust into our adult jails and prisons are way more important to the system than good anything else because they have control over so much, and there are good prosecutors."
Joann: "So nationally speaking, when you're thinking about the fact that there are scientifically proven best practices, we have this adolescent brain science, Supreme Court has made these decisions ... Have you witnessed or seen any sort of changes that have resulted in terms of the types of sentences or the types of charges or the way things are handled in light of that, in particular in terms of these longer like JLWOP. Obviously the death penalty were no longer constitutionally acceptable."
Randee: "Georgia had fewer JLWOP cases than most. We, post the Supreme Court cases, had a case in Georgia that followed Montgomery that required us to look back at all of the JLWOP cases, not necessarily as a result of Miller because Miller just said it was mandatory JLWOP, and we didn't have any mandatory JLWOP. We had discretionary, but after Montgomery came down, which really categorized it as two types of kids, we had a case in Georgia called Veal and Veal mandated that there be specific findings as to the role that youth played and a specific finding with respect to whether the child was irreparably corrupt, which comes out of the Montgomery decision. So there's some look back right now at the JLWOP cases. There's really not that many of them. There are ... I don't know the number, but it's under 25 I think."
"I haven't noticed any change in sentencing practices beyond that. JLWOP was always rare in Georgia. We were not at the forefront of that. It's not mandatory. Our life sentences are parole eligible after 30. I think there are attacks to be made on 30 years as when you're parole eligible for life sentences but I haven't seen judges be scared of giving them in our youthful offender cases. Again, they're not the most common outcome for our kids. I think ... I'm not sure this is as a result of Supreme Court cases. This is a result of prosecutorial discretion. I'm not sure if it's a result of plea bargaining and trials that happens everywhere, but there are life sentences that come down in juvenile cases occasionally, particularly the 17-year-olds rather than the S.B. 440 kids."
"I'm not sure I've seen ... I think I've seen more of an impact in the juvenile courts probably than in the adult courts where there's a core number of juvenile court judges who are really rethinking detention policies, rethinking confinement as long-term sentence options and really trying to do alternative community-based best practice programming with kids on a preventative end, and I think that's taken effect more on the juvenile courts than in the adult courts. Again, guessing, and I'm not in all of our adult courts. I'm in a pretty small group of them."
Joann: "So do y'all represent clients ... What's the geographic area that you represent [crosstalk 00:55:25]"
Randee: "I primarily represent kids in DeKalb County. I do a lot of work statewide with our juvenile defenders. I don't do a lot of work statewide with our adult defenders who represent 17-year-olds or even who represent S.B. 440s. The vast majority of S.B. 440s are handled by adult defender offices because they're in the adult court rather than having somebody in the juvenile defender office carry that through and work with that. I think part of ... I think that results in a little bit of a disconnect between where the knowledge base is on the science and the adolescent brain development and the best practices and the kids who get ... and the defenders who get that group of kids who end up in the adult system ... Sometimes. Again, not all the time. There are some offices that are at the forefront of that and some offices where the 16-year-old is treated very much the same as the 18-year-old."
Joann: "How has this work ... I don't want to say changed you, because obviously you've been doing it for a very, very, very long time, but how has doing this work made you who you are? What are the elements of this work that you find have given you certain types of qualities and skills and a perspective on life?"
Randee: "To do this work, you have to believe that there is good in children, and one of the things that keeps I think most of us going, because there are losses day after day after day. You have to redefine what win is for sure, and there are losses and there are failures and there are kids who get sent off for life and there are ... and the ones that make you keep coming back are the ones you've interviewed, the ones who've come out, the ones who are successful, the ones who are in college now, and it is hard for me to ever believe that we should give up on a 15-year-old, and to keep doing this, I have to keep believing that a 15-year ... We can't quit on the 15-year-old just because they're making it hard on us, and so that I think is what ... because there are some who aren't going to make it, but that's our fault, and so it is imperative that we do right by them because nobody else has yet, and I think that's why we all do this. I think that's certainly why I do this because everybody else has quit on them. Somebody's got to keep it going."