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Tajikistani delegation studies Clayton's juvenile court

Only within the last few years has Tajikistan, a former member of the Soviet Union, developed a Child Rights Department to ensure that children are treated differently than adults in the court system. A delegation from the Republic of Tajikistan arrived in Clayton County over the weekend to begin exploring ways to make their juvenile court system better.

Made possible by a grant from the U.S. Library of Congress' Open World Leadership Program, the Clayton County Juvenile Court is hosting the five-member delegation all this week.

The delegation includes some of the country's top prosecutors and child advocates, including: Irina Ashurova, head of the Department of Statistics and Analysis for the Tajikistan Republic General Prosecutor's Office; Dilshod Samimov, head of the Soghd Region Department of Justice; Madinakhon Salimova, head of the Department of Child's Rights for the Local Government of Bobojon Gafurov District; Amir Zaynidinov, a prosecutor for the Prosecutor's Office of Aini City; and Gulchekhra Khamidova, a secondary school English teacher in Khujand, Tajikistan and the delegation's facilitator.

The Russian American Rule of Law Consortium, a Vermont-based organization that works to develop legal institutions in 11 American states and 11 regions in Russia, submitted a grant to the Open World Leadership Program on behalf of the Tajikistani delegation. Kathy Stankevich, program coordinator for the organization, said the work of the Clayton County Juvenile Court in reducing the number of youth felony offenses was specifically mentioned in the grant proposal.

"One of the things that came up was a need for people in Tajikistan to learn about the juvenile court system," said Stankevich. In Clayton County "they can see what works and what doesn't work," she added. "They are able to really see the programs we have in Clayton County and speak to judges informally. Many of our delegates have told us that they admire Americans' willingness to be perfectly frank in telling them what doesn't work, and how they would modify it."

Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske, who is hosting the Tajikistani delegation, said the members arrived on Saturday. Halfway through a 10-day trip, members have witnessed juvenile court proceedings in Clayton and Henry counties, spoke will local judges and prosecutors, and experienced local culture through local home visits, a low-country boil, an Atlanta Braves game, and a visit to the CNN Center.

Teske said the Juvenile Court's participation in the exchange is an example of how Clayton County can "help make a difference on the other side of the world" for children.

"You're talking about a former communist state," Teske said. "Over there, they have a system where kids are treated in the adult system, so this is a shift for them. They are having to learn that kids are different from adults, and they do need to be treated differently.

"Because of our collaboration [with other county agencies], we have been able to increase the number of kids graduating from school, and as a result, decrease the number of kids committing felony offenses," he said. "They have a relatively new juvenile court agency for the country, so they are wanting to learn what are the best practices for juvenile justice. I applaud them, because they want to learn."

One of the ways the county's juvenile court collaborates with other agencies, according to Juvenile Court Detention Alternative Coordinator Adolphus Graves, is the court's FAST (Finding Alternatives for Safety and Treatment) Panel. He said the panel, which meets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, brings in experts from Clayton County Behavioral Health Services, the District Attorney's Victim Assistance Program, Clayton County Public Schools, and the state Department of Juvenile Justice to interview young offenders and their parents to do determine suitable diversion programs.

"You basically have field experts getting to interview the parent, so the court can determine how to keep the community safe and provide treatment for the child," Graves said. "Representatives from the school system can ask the parent about their [child's] education issues. A representative from the Clayton Center [Behavioral Health Services] can ask the parents questions about the child's mental health. "They [the delegation] have really liked the integrated, multi-system approach of addressing youth delinquency," he added.

Delegation member Madinakhon Salimova said the visit has been "extremely helpful." She said she is hoping to take many of the ideas she has learned in Clayton County back to Tajikistan.

"I work with our difficult children, the children who break our laws," Salimova said. "I see that the government here is very involved in juvenile justice. I found the FAST Panel in the Juvenile Court is very effective, and we have to establish something similar in Tajikistan. It's been an extremely useful experience."