Rodney Brown considers himself a guide who tries to steer troubled youths back onto the right path.
Brown, an intake officer at the Columbia County Juvenile Court, conducts initial evaluations of juvenile cases, determining whether they warrant a court appearance before Judge Douglas Flanagan.
"I tell kids, when you get into trouble, you take the power away from yourself, your parents, whomever, and you place it in the hands of one individual," Brown said. "And when you go into court, you don't know how it is going to turn out. By the stroke of a pen, the judge can change your future."
A large percentage of the 15,000 docketed cases in Juvenile Court go to Brown first. Cases range from unruly juveniles and shoplifting cases to aggravated assault and child molestation, Brown said. When a report is made involving a juvenile, Brown looks through the case, and then meets with the parents and the child before deciding whether the case should proceed to court.
In minor cases such as unruly juveniles, simple battery and first-offense shoplifting, Brown has the option to give the youths another chance by offering community service, group counseling or other informal probation tactics instead of having a formal court proceeding.
Though Brown said he sometimes sees repeat offenders, most juveniles he assigns to informal probation never return.
"He really has a desire to make a difference in a child's life," said Margaret Tutt-Adams, a Juvenile Court manager and chief probation officer who works with Brown on incoming cases.
Brown's passion to guide troubled youths is one he shares with three generations. His grandparents, Norman and Annie Brown, of Sylvania, Ga., served as house parents at the Regional Youth Detention Center in Augusta for many years.
Brown, a native of Savannah, said his mother, Dr. Lucille Brown, retired as a teacher at an alternative school after 31 years.
Brown graduated from Savannah State University, where his father, Alfred Brown, is the director of auxiliary services.
Rodney Brown then moved to Augusta, where he worked as an intake officer in the Juvenile Court system for about five years. There, Brown said, a more experienced intake officer mentored him.
"He said intake is a privileged position because you have an opportunity to really make a difference in a child's life or make a choice on whether or not that child needs to go to court versus once they get on probation, a decision has already been made," Brown said.
He moved to Columbia County's court system five years ago.
Brown lives in Grovetown with his wife, Kelah, and is a father of three: Trinity, 6; Ryan, 1; and Morgan, 2 months. Being a father, he said, has given him a new perspective in his job.
"I think it really brought more compassion to this job for me," he said. "You see how much effect that kids can have on you. Before (kids), you make a decision on a case or you are dealing with a kid and you are not really understanding what the parent is going through."
In initial meetings with children and their parents, Brown said, he must make them conscious that what they have done is wrong and that they must be accountable for their actions.
"But the main thing, after telling them all the negative stuff about them, I always let them leave the office with something positive," he said. "Either from me or the parent, I have them say something positive about the child so they at least know they are not a bad kid. They just made a bad decision."
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