Transferring Juveniles Outside Compact Can Cause Problems
Each spring break and summer, Jean Hall and her staff in the juvenile compact office in Florida stay very busy.
The lure of beaches, sunshine and Disney attract a lot of runaways. To return these youth to their home state, Florida—like all other states—must follow certain rules under the Interstate Compact for Juveniles, or ICJ.
But when a state is not a member of that national compact, no legal means exist for that safe return. That’s especially problematic for Florida, which neighbors Georgia, the only state that isn’t a member of the compact.
“We have a high caseload with Georgia and we have to exercise judgment on every case,” said Hall, Florida’s compact commissioner and director of training for the Interstate Compact for Juveniles. “We have been very creative in order to make the service for a youth or to even have a kid returned to his home state.”
The compact deals with more than just runaways. Any youth who has committed a crime and is under supervision in one state must continue to be monitored if he or she travels or moves to another state. Georgia was a member of the compact when it was first created in 1955. But it was rewritten in 2009 and required formal adoption in each state. Georgia’s governor has vetoed legislation to join the various compacts.
Absent a memorandum of agreement with another state, “there’s no legal authority by which juveniles can be placed from either Georgia to another state or in Georgia from another state,” said Rick Masters, general counsel for the Interstate Compact for Juveniles.
While individual states can enter into a memorandum of agreement with Georgia, only one has chosen to do so. ICJ Executive Director Ashley Lippert said policymakers in each state can decide whether to enter into an agreement with Georgia, but the national commission only endorses the compact.
“Just having an agreement with one state doesn’t serve a purpose, because what do you do with all the other states?” said Terry Clark, who oversees Pennsylvania’s compact and serves as ICJ chair.
Even though Pennsylvania doesn’t border Georgia, Clark said his state has had requests to have Georgia youth come there. He said it doesn’t make sense for one state to enter into separate agreements with the other participating jurisdictions, because the compact serves that purpose. And, Clark said, each state would likely want different language for protection from various liability issues and concerns.
“The compact allows for the member states to cooperate under the same terms and conditions and understanding,” he said. Member states were active in writing the compact rules and have agreed on such things as the definition for who is considered a runaway, for example, or the procedures for supervising a youth adjudicated of an offense once they cross state lines.
“What the compact does is provide a consistent set of expectations and responsibilities between jurisdictions, so you don’t have 50 different agreements between states for that supervision to occur,” said Philip Cox, assistant director of the Oregon Youth Authority and treasurer.
That ensures not only the safety and supervision of the youth, he said, but also the safety of the community to which a juvenile offender is relocating, even if it is just for a visit. Those interstate visits happen a lot. Children may visit a relative in a nearby state or take a vacation with family. The receiving state must be notified, Cox said, and agree to the terms of supervision.
If that doesn’t happen, “the potential for additional crimes or acts of delinquency is heightened because he’s not being provided with supervision necessary to mitigate those potentialities,” Cox said.
That’s especially important for youth who have committed sexual offenses, compact administrators say. “Public safety is the concern,” said Hall, of Florida, “along with the safety of the youth.”
Hall is chair of the ICJ Training Committee. She said the ICJ will soon start training on the new compact rules, which take effect March 1. That training ensures member states and staff are apprised of such things as the forms needed when requesting supervision for probation or parole cases.
Member states also benefit through the electronic tracking system the compact is developing, as well as the “bench book” provided to judges and court personnel, said Clark.
But the most important part of membership is the knowledge that runaway youth can be safely returned to their home state and that delinquent youth aren’t subjecting other communities to potential crimes.
While the 51 participating jurisdictions—including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands—have no legal responsibility to cooperate with Georgia, many of them do. For Florida, that’s on a case-by-case basis, Hall said.
Even faraway states like Oregon recognize the need for individual case cooperation with Georgia. “Even if there isn’t a legal liability, there’s almost a moral liability or an ethical issue,” said Cox. If he knows, for instance, a youth convicted of a sexual offense is transferring to Georgia, he wouldn’t just go to court and wash his hands of the case.
“I don’t know that there’s going to be another victim,” he said, “but I need to do everything I can to mitigate the risk.”
The flipside, said Clark, is that each state must do what it can to protect its own residents.
“If you say we’re not going to accept this referral from you because you’re not a member of the compact, the fear is they’re going to release the juvenile or send the juvenile anyway,” he said. “Now you have a juvenile in Pennsylvania that has no supervision. If it’s a sexual offender, then how are you protecting any other children?”