Judge Gregory Adams introduced our speaker
and fellow Decatur Rotarian, Judge Desiree Sutton
Peagler, noting that Judge Peagler
has been achievement-oriented all of her life, so it's not
surprising that her dedication to juvenile justice in DeKalb
County has been so successful.
Desiree was the first African-American
Valedictorian of her high school, where she also excelled in
band, basketball and student government. She graduated Summa
Cum Laude from Troy University, and she received her Law
Degree from Emory University, where she was also active in
student government and similar extracurricular activities.
After her graduation, she joined a private law firm and
practiced criminal and civil law. In 1988, she became an
Assistant District Attorney for DeKalb County, and her career
steadily advanced within the County government. In 2005, she
became the first African-American female to become a full-time
Juvenile Court judge in DeKalb County. Judge
Peagler resides in DeKalb County with her husband and
Judge Peagler began her presentation by
thanking Club friends and associates who have provided support
and encouragement to her throughout her career. She thanked
Judges Greg Adams, C. J. Becker, Dan Coursey, Bob
Castellani, and Michael Hancock, as well as former
Club President, attorney Bob Wilson and
former DeKalb District Attorney, J. Tom
Judge Peagler shared her passion for the
successful elements that make DeKalb's Juvenile Court so
important for the children of our community. She emphasized
that the Juvenile Court operates 24 hours a day at the Gregory
A. Adams Juvenile Justice Center on Memorial Drive. The Court
has four full-time judges, with one always on call to help
children find a safe home and to make decisions about children
who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. The goals of
the Court are to rehabilitate those who have broken the law,
to allow children to remain in their communities, to assist
children in foster care, to restore dignity to children, and
to find the best way to encourage children to become
The Juvenile Court has had criminal cases involving
children as young as 6 years old. Except for crimes involving
the "Seven Deadly Sins", the maximum incarceration in Juvenile
Court is five years. The Superior Court deals with children 13
to 17 years old who have committed "Seven Deadly Sins" crimes,
where they are tried as adults.
The primary charge of the Juvenile Court is to move cases
along swiftly, because time is a precious commodity when it
comes to the lives of children. Juvenile cases have to be
heard within 10 days of a preliminary hearing. Continuances
sometimes happen, but a dispositional hearing must be held
within a 30-day period. These time frames apply to both
criminal and deprivation (foster care) cases.
The majority members of the Juvenile Court staff are
probation officers, who often provide parental-type guidance
to their charges. The children identify with the positive
interaction they experience with their probation officers, and
they develop a personal responsibility to these officers.
The Juvenile Court has a number of programs to turn
children around and move them toward becoming productive
citizens. The Community Service Program includes various
learning components, including AIDS education where they
interact with patients, Choose Freedom where inmates have
frank discussions with childhood offenders, and a
Toastmasters-type program that includes speech and
communication classes and formal presentations.
Truancy is an increasingly difficult problem for both
schools and juvenile courts. DeKalb's Juvenile Court has
formed a team of probation officers, social workers and judges
to meet with children, monitor truancy offenders and provide
guidance. The results have been dramatic, with significant
drops in truancy, suspensions and new cases.
The Juvenile Court also has a rebound drug program for 14
to 16 year old males with drug problems. The juveniles meet
with judges and probation officers who provide a program to
expose the youths to healthy educational and service-related
activities. They engage in community service activities, plant
gardens, go camping, and attend special events together.
The foster care program of the Juvenile Court is
instrumental in helping teenage foster care children obtain
the ability to transition to adulthood. After the age of 18,
foster care is no longer available to these children, so the
Court sponsors classes in independent living, finances and
understanding available resources for their future needs.
Judge Peagler emphasized that community
volunteers are a critical component in the Court's success.
Court volunteers can serve on citizen panel reviews for foster
care children, youth diversion programs for first-time
offenders, and can serve as mentors to the children. She
encouraged all of us to connect with young people in our
community, to serve as role models and encourage young people
to find meaningful and productive interests.
During the current economic downturn, the Court has seen a
slight increase in juvenile delinquencies, including an
increase in female youth involvement. Thankfully, no
significant change has occurred in deprivation cases, but
continued economic difficulties could change this statistic.
DeKalb's Juvenile Court can only track county-specific cases,
since there is no database available to track area-wide
statistics involving other metropolitan jurisdictions.
However, Judge Peagler was pleased to report
that some former offenders return to share their successes.
For instance, one former offender returned to the Court to
report that he had graduated from college and was ministering
in a nearby church.Reported by Betty