ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal urged judges, prosecutors, sheriffs and legislators serving on a criminal-justice reform commission Monday to consider every part of the juvenile justice system for overhaul.
“I want to charge you to look at that from the inception, and you will have the assistance of state officials,” he said.
He added that he didn’t want to narrow the commission’s focus and expects it to also consider making additions to the recommendations it made last year for adult offenders. Most of those recommendations wound up in legislation designed to reduce the prison population by shortening sentences for people convicted of minor forgery and burglary and shifting drug abusers to home-based treatment rather than incarceration. The legislation passed unanimously.
“I’m not giving you a chart,” Deal said. “I’m just giving you what I would anticipate would be the areas that you will look at.”
After the governor’s five-minute pep talk, the commission heard from Jason Newman, a policy analyst with the Pew Center on the States, a Washington-based think tank. He pointed to the success Ohio and Texas have experienced by shifting most of their juvenile program to counties operating with state grants.
Both states saved taxpayer money while lowering the rate of repeat convictions. Ohio’s re-conviction rate three years after release from the juvenile system fell from 43 percent to 22 percent for high-risk offenders.
Georgia’s high-risk offenders have a 60 percent re-conviction rate, and it costs $98,000 a year to lock up each of them. Some commission members expected the picture to look worse for the 2,000 children in the Georgia system.
“Those numbers are lower than what I thought they would be,” said Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry.
Newman said his foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation would further analyze Georgia’s juvenile system over the next two months at their own expense before making specific recommendations, but those two states were the only examples he offered Monday.
“Not only did Ohio save millions of dollars but they also improved public safety,” Newman said, adding that the state saved from $11 to $45 for every dollar it spent on the county-run programs.
The commission will meet in small groups next in the fall and present a formal report by Jan. 1, in time for the governor to present it to the General Assembly’s next session.
Presiding Justice Carol Hunstein said she wanted one working group to consider reforming traffic laws as well.