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Henry police chief named to state's Juvenile Commission

By Shannon Jenkins

Gov. Sonny Perdue has appointed Henry County's police chief to the newly formed Juvenile Law Commission as part of Senate Resolution 161.

According to the governor's office, Russ Abernathy will be the only police chief on the 25-member commission, which will also include members of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Resolution 161 reads that "the commission shall study the conditions, needs, issues and problems of the juvenile justice and child welfare system in Georgia," and the committee will elicit views from experts in the field of juvenile justice and child welfare. The commission will also have the opportunity to recommend to Perdue, the General Assembly and the judiciary "any action or legislation which the commission deems necessary or appropriate, and shall oversee the implementation of such recommendations."

When Abernathy received the call about his appointment, he said he would be happy to serve.

"I'll do everything I can to cooperate with the others to enhance our juvenile system," he said. "I'm just proud the governor has enough confidence to select me to be a part of this commission."

Abernathy said his first meeting with the group will be sometime next month, and the commission will generally meet at the Georgia Juvenile Department of Justice in Atlanta.

When asked if he had any Henry County matters to bring before the commission, Abernathy said he had no comment as of yet.

"First I need to get in and get my feet wet," he said.

Abernathy was one of four governor-appointed members announced on Thursday. He will join Elizabeth Lindsey of Atlanta, a family law attorney; Edwin Risler of Athens, an associate professor in the school of social work at the University of Georgia; and Mark McClure of Dahlonega, the sheriff of Lumpkin County.

The other members will be appointed by various state leaders and departments.

Area child advocates were supportive of the committee's formation.

Gerald Bostock, program coordinator for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children in Clayton County, said the creation of the commission "is a necessary and vital step in assessing the juvenile justice and child welfare system."

"As a child advocate, I'm hopeful the commission will address the plight of child abuse and neglect victims and will support legislation which serves to protect the rights of these child victims," Bostock said. "The needs of relative caregivers providing care for children in our community should be addressed."

Support services, he said, need to be created and strengthened so that children placed in the care and custody of relatives remain with their family and not in an over-burdened child welfare system.

As director of community services/programs and grants for Henry County Juvenile Court's Youth Juvenile Outreach Program, Sandra Reagan said the commission will be a "great asset to the state of Georgia, as well as in our own community" because of the "hard-hitting facts and concerns facing youth today."

"Teens are facing issues much more complicated than those faced in prior generations," she said. "Among the many issues facing today's teens are drug use, gangs and violence, single family homes, teen pregnancies, anger-related issues and family violence."

With the state and local governments working together, Reagan said these issues will be addressed.