Generally, a person charged with cruelty to children (in the first, second, or third degree), which this sounds like based on your brief facts, may be sentenced from 5-20 yrs (1st degree), 1-10 yrs (2nd degree), or up to 1 yr (1st or 2nd conviction for 3rd degree) OR 1-3 yrs (3rd or subsequent conviction for 3rd degree). Understand, however, that any number of variables may apply, including the possibility of probation in lieu of incarceration, a possible fine (depending on the degree, facts of the case, etc.), possible community service, possible court-ordered counseling for your BF, your BF's criminal history, the facts of the case, the willingness of the prosecutor to negotiate, the decision-making process of the assigned judge (either for a trial or plea), among other factors.
I strongly advise that your BF speak with an attorney as soon as reasonably possible, if he hasn't already. There may be a way to resolve the case without a conviction showing up on your BF's record (e.g., possibly First Offender Act), or resolve it with terms that may not be entirely to your BF's liking, but which may save him prison or jail time (if he is lucky). However, only an attorney can best advise you, there are no guarantees about any of this, and the sooner the process is begun, the better.
I am sorry to hear this happened, and I know this is an upsetting time. I strongly encourage your boyfriend to speak with an attorney as soon as possible about this matter. As the other poster indicated, these kinds of charges are very serious and can carry serious consequences, which can also include ancillary or "side" effects which can have huge impacts on his life other than potential jail time. That said, it is likely that he will be able to post a pretrial bond when he is arrested on any warrants relating to these kinds of charges, and consulting a lawyer at this stage can be helpful in that process as well. Most importantly, it sounds like both you and your boyfriend could really benefit from experienced counsel who can help you navigate this process, make sure he understands what is going on, and can help fight to have him treated fairly. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if we may be of assistance.
Kathleen Willcox Williams
Attorney at Law
512 G Street
Brunswick, Georgia 31520
This response is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship.