Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

Constitution: A beacon for lost kids
Expanded court system could intervene before more young lives are thrown away.
Bryant Culpepper - Special
Tuesday * December 7

As a superior court judge for the past 17 years, I have witnessed some of the best and worst of humanity. But I cannot forget the human tragedy of one recent murder trial and what it tells us during this season about the great need to reform Georgia's juvenile justice system.

Willie Alexander, 39, was walking down Macon's Patton Avenue one night last April when Travis Glover approached him and demanded a cigarette. Alexander refused. After an argument, 15 year-old Glover pulled out a .38-caliber pistol and shot the victim seven times.

The evidence showed Glover shot Alexander as the victim attempted to run for his life and that he continued to shoot him until he ran out of bullets. As Alexander fell by a stop sign, Glover, his pistol empty, kicked and cursed the victim repeatedly. Then he walked away.

At his trial, Travis Glover showed little remorse. The young man's expression was almost blank, and he showed almost no emotion.

During the trial I read over his psychological examination. He had been asked by the doctor to complete this sentence: "I hate." His answer was "God."

How did Travis Glover's life take such a turn?

The boy's psychological exam indicated he had a schizophrenic mother and a mentally ill father. He was passed back and forth among relatives and foster homes his entire life.

For some reason, the Department of Family and Children Services closed Glover's case. At 13, he was returned to his mother. She said she didn't have room for him and told him he must find another place to live.

Travis Glover wandered around Macon for the next two years. For all practical purposes, he was living on the streets at the time of the shooting. He had acquired a fifth-grade education.

I shared a lot of this with the jury after the case was over. Some of them were crying. What an incredible waste!

Travis Glover is a classic case of unresolved child deprivation. Nobody wanted him around and nobody really cared what happened to him --- not his parents or his extended family.

The state had tried to do what it could but sadly, neither Family and Children Services, the Department of Juvenile Justice nor the local juvenile court had the wherewithal to provide him with what he needed to behave or to survive. His was one of the tough cases with few available resources and even fewer expectations.

This case has an expensive outcome. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent to house, feed and nurse him in Georgia's prison system. You and I will pay for Travis Glover's upkeep and support for the rest of his life.

Georgia's child protective and social services budget has taken a fiscal beating during the past few years. It's been difficult to find additional money for mental health treatment, for better foster care and for better pay for the dedicated but underpaid workers who deal directly with children and families. The leadership of this state should review Georgia's commitments and needs in these areas.

Additionally, Georgia's juvenile courts need to change as well. The juvenile court is the only place where the Travis Glovers can be dealt with in a meaningful and productive way. Juvenile courts serve as the gatekeepers to the state's foster care system.

Yet 93 counties in Georgia have no full-time juvenile court judge to ensure deprived and delinquent children receive the care, treatment and, when necessary, the punishment they deserve. Instead, these counties depend on superior court judges, who must handle juvenile as well as adult cases, or part-time juvenile judges.

Today, counties in Georgia that want them must pay for their own juvenile court judges. How much does the state pay? Zero. The result? Inequities on a heartbreakingly human scale depending on whether or not children reside in a "have" or a "have not" county.

It's time for Georgia to improve its juvenile court system. House Bill 182, passed during the last session by the Georgia House and awaiting passage by the Georgia Senate, creates full-time, state-funded juvenile court judges for all of Georgia. The cost? Approximately $4 million per year --- the amount we pay to build a few miles of new highway.

Although it's too late to help Travis Glover, there are more children with similar problems --- and potential --- living throughout Georgia.

The state of Georgia can make a difference. We need to choose to care for Georgia's children more intelligently, effectively and compassionately.

Every child deserves a better chance. We owe that much to them.

Bryant Culpepper is a superior court judge in the Macon Judicial Circuit and chair of the Georgia Supreme Court Child Placement Project.

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