Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Reform in Georgia

Posted June 13, 2013
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Reforms in atlanta

Major changes are com­ing to the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem in Geor­gia after Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 242 into law. The new law is the result of the work of a Spe­cial Coun­cil on Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Reform con­vened by the gov­er­nor in 2011 and expand­ed in 2012 to include juve­nile justice.

The coun­cil — under the lead­er­ship of co-chairs David Wern­er, the governor’s deputy chief of staff of staff for leg­isla­tive and exter­nal affairs, and Geor­gia Appeals Judge Michael Bog­gs — was asked to study the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem in Geor­gia and devel­op rec­om­men­da­tions to improve pub­lic safe­ty and decrease costs.

With the help of the Pew Cen­ter on the States and the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, the Coun­cil pro­duced a set of research-based rec­om­men­da­tions. The result­ing law will ensure that Geor­gia gets a bet­ter return on its invest­ments in juve­nile jus­tice. As a result of HB 242 and the FY 2014 bud­get, the state is expect­ed to save near­ly $85 mil­lion through 2018 and to rein­vest a por­tion of the sav­ings to expand evi­dence-based pro­grams and prac­tices, which in turn should reduce recidi­vism and future admis­sions to res­i­den­tial facilities.

JUST Geor­gia has pro­duced a sum­ma­ry of the HB 242 revi­sions to the over­all juve­nile code. The new statute lim­its incar­cer­a­tion by pre­vent­ing com­mit­ments for sta­tus offend­ers and many mis­de­meanants; it returns some dis­cre­tion to judges regard­ing sen­tences that are imposed on so-called des­ig­nat­ed felons”, cas­es which pre­vi­ous­ly car­ried manda­to­ry min­i­mums; it man­dates reval­i­da­tion of the Geor­gia Depart­ment of Juve­nile Justice’s (DJJ) risk and needs assess­ment instru­ments; it allows DJJ to place low-risk youth on admin­is­tra­tive super­vi­sion sta­tus, there­by enabling the depart­ment to deploy resources dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly to its most high risk youth. In addi­tion, though not part of HB 242, a sep­a­rate vol­un­tary grant pro­gram (total of $6 mil­lion) was estab­lished to seed new pro­gram­ming in inter­est­ed coun­ties to stop the prac­tice of send­ing youth to state facil­i­ties sim­ply because local, appro­pri­ate pro­gram­mat­ic resources in coun­ties are scarce.

This year’s nation­al JDAI Inter-site con­fer­ence was held in Geor­gia in part to draw atten­tion to the local and state juve­nile jus­tice improve­ments, and a spe­cial ple­nary was assem­bled to share Georgia’s expe­ri­ence in pass­ing the land­mark leg­is­la­tion. The Hon­or­able Car­ol Hun­stein, Chief Jus­tice of the Supreme Court of Geor­gia, report­ed that their analy­sis of the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem revealed that Geor­gia had near­ly 2,000 chil­dren placed out-of-home at a cost of $91,000 per year per youth. She also empha­sized that many were locked up for minor or sta­tus offens­es and that this would change as a result of the new legislation.

The Hon­or­able Steve Teske, Chief Judge of Clay­ton Coun­ty Juve­nile Court, cred­its JDAI with inspir­ing recent juve­nile jus­tice reforms. The results in Clay­ton Coun­ty couldn’t speak any loud­er, with close to a 70% reduc­tion in the local deten­tion pop­u­la­tion and a more than 40% decrease in num­ber of youth com­mit­ted to out-of-home place­ments, with no increas­es in crime and huge cost sav­ings. Many Geor­gia offi­cials point to a shift in insti­tu­tion­al log­ic — an align­ment between leg­is­la­tion and a more data-dri­ven, best prac­tices approach — sim­i­lar to changes they have been pur­su­ing in the adult system.

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