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Uphill fight against law that punishes children 

A small group of liberal legislators have taken up a daunting, if not impossible, task: overturning the state law that sends certain children to adult prison for 10 years or more.

Last Thursday, Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, held a four-hour hearing in the Legislative Office Building to discuss the ill effects of the law. More than 200 people packed the room -- the biggest turnout of the law's opponents to date.

Seven Democratic legislators also showed up -- none of whom held office when the law was passed eight years ago.

"It was a quick fix through the Legislature," Fulton Juvenile Court Judge David Smith said at the hearing. "If you talk to most judges, you'd find they were in opposition."

The law took the power to decide whether a child's case stays in Juvenile Court away from Juvenile Court judges; instead, the case goes directly to Superior Court.

Absent from the hearing were any Republicans, who took control this year of the state Senate and governorship.

Obviously, Fort's timing isn't ideal for a coup d'etat on tough-on-crime legislation.

Yet the law, like ones passed in other states, has come under national scrutiny for failing to deter crime it was meant to curb. It also offers zero rehabilitation to young offenders. (The law and its effect on criminal children was the subject of a Dec. 18 CL cover story.)

The law says that children between the ages of 13 and 17 who commit one of "seven deadly sins" -- murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy or armed robbery -- must serve at least 10 years in adult prison. There is no option for parole. That means that an adult who commits the same crime may be released years earlier.

"If a child has committed a crime," said Edward Boyd, whose son was sentenced to 10 years for an armed robbery he committed at 15, with a BB gun, "he should be punished as a child and given the chance to reform."

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