On December 18, 2012 Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced the release of a long awaited report on reforming the state’s juvenile justice system. The report was compiled through the efforts of Georgia’s Criminal Justice Reform Council.
In a prepared statement, Governor Deal said, “We know there’s room for dramatic improvement in the results we see in the juvenile justice system. I will work with legislators to find new solutions that provide better outcomes for public safety, for our youth and for taxpayers.”
The report on reforming the juvenile justice systems comes after Criminal Justice Reform Council report on adults earlier this year. On January 9, 2012, Reentry Central posted an article on the creation of Georgia’s Criminal Justice Reform Council, and its goals. The article, Georgia Special Council Report on Criminal Justice Reform Can be Used as Model for Other States stated, in part: “Realizing that Georgia’s prison population was soaring to record numbers, while public safety was not increasing, the bi-partisan Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians was created to examine current criminal justice policies, and to suggest measures to cut the budget, reduce the state’s prison population, and increase public safety. The Council was provided technical assistance from the Pew Center of on the States.
Working groups were created to tackle issues in three areas:
Sentencing and prison admissions
Prison length-of-stay and parole
The council quickly discovered that the state’s prisons were being filled with non-violent, low-level drug users and property offenders who account for 60 percent of prison admissions. The council found that the majority of the 3,200 drug offenders who were sent to prison in 2010 were classified as low-risk, and less likely to re-offend.
The council recommended that in the future, decisions to incarcerate such low-risk individuals should be carefully weighed, and other options other than prison should be explored.” To read the Special Council report rleeased in November 2011 click here to go to website
The December 2012 Report on the on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians, identifies “Georgia’s Key Juvenile Justice Challenge:”
In recent years, the number of youth in Georgia’s juvenile justice system has declined; however, the cost of this system remains substantial and the Georgia taxpayers have not received a sufficient return on their investment. In FY 2013, the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) was appropriated $300 million. Nearly two-thirds of that budget is used to operate out-of-home facilities, which can cost more than $90,000 per bed per year. Despite these expenditures, more than half of the youth in the juvenile justice system are re-adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a criminal offense within three years of release, a rate that has held steady since 2003.
With such high costs and low public safety returns, this so-called “deep end” of the system became the focus of the Council’s analysis. The data show the majority of juveniles in out-of-home placements are felony offenders and designated felons, and some are assessed as a high-risk of recidivism. However, a substantial portion of out-of-home youth are adjudicated for misdemeanor or status offenses or are assessed as low-risk to reoffend.
The Council offered two recommendations for reform:
Focus the state’s out-of-home facilities on higher-risk, serious offenders
Reduce recidivism by strengthening evidence-based community supervision and programs
The report adds:
“These recommendations are projected to decrease the average daily out-of-home adjudicated population by 639 offenders by 2018 (from 1,908 offenders to 1,269 offenders), allowing for significant opportunities for savings and reallocation of resources. In fact, projections estimate that these recommendations would save the state more than $88 million in averted state expenditures and actual savings through 2018. The Council recommends that a substantial amount be invested in new appropriations through a voluntary grant program to support local, evidence-based programs that are proven to reduce recidivism in other jurisdictions where they have been applied. This investment is projected to avoid a significant increase in state appropriations to the Department of Juvenile Justice by diverting low-risk offenders to treatment programs in the community as opposed to increasing the out-of-home juvenile offender population committed to DJJ.”