New juvenile judge: cases can be ‘heartbreaking’

Tue, 07/22/2008 - 4:20pm
By: John Munford

Monday morning Ben Miller Jr. assumed his new duty as chief juvenile court judge for the Griffin Judicial Circuit, which includes Fayette County.

Miller, 38, has been serving as the part-time “associate” juvenile court judge for the past four years, hearing cases roughly three days a week. Prior to that Miller heard juvenile cases as a fill-in judge in Upson County. Miller is the son of former Griffin Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Ben J. Miller Sr.

Fayette is fortunate in that most juvenile delinquency cases involve teens who make a stupid decision once and never show up in court again, Miller explained. Other areas in the circuit are seeing more cases involving juvenile drug use, assaults and gang activity, Miller said.

In Spading County, for example, there are far more cases where repeat offenders continuously appear in court. In such cases, when parental discipline is just not working, there’s not much more the court can do but hand down detention sentences until the child becomes an adult and will be handled in adult court, Miller said.

But Miller’s goals for juvenile court are to avoid such situations if at all possible.

“If we can divert one child from getting into the adult system later in life, then I think we’ve done our job,” Miller said.

In many of the cases involving repeat offenders the accused either comes from a broken home or might have young parents who aren’t equipped with parenting skills, Miller said.

Miller said it’s been his experience that if a child isn’t taught discipline by the age of 7 or 8, “they’ll be out of control by the time they’re about 13.”

“It’s frustrating to see that,” Miller said.

Other times the parents have taken appropriate action against their child, and there’s no need to punish the juvenile from the court’s perspective, Miller added.

One of seven children himself, Miller has a son and daughter of his own. He said he certainly wasn’t ready to be a parent in his early 20s.

Some of the deprivation cases heard in juvenile court are “heartbreaking,” Miller said.

The goal of the court in deprivation cases, Miller said, is to keep families together as much as possible, and reunifying them quickly when children must be removed for safety reasons.

In cases where reunification is impossible, the next best thing is to have the children placed with a family member if one is available, Miller said.

Though the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services is often maligned for its handling of deprivation cases, Miller noted that in Georgia a juvenile court judge is the one who typically authorizes child removal for immediate safety issues.

It’s the DFCS officials who work to help parents get their children back, Miller pointed out.

“We just try to fix it and get the family together and pointed in the right direction so those children will grow up to be good parents too,” Miller said, adding that he often stresses the importance of a good education to the young people appearing in his court.

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