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Council offers idea to improve Ga. juvenile justice system

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ATLANTA — A special council is recommending Georgia’s juvenile justice system save its out-of-home facilities for the most serious offenders and strengthen community programs to reduce recidivism.



The report from the Spe­cial Council on Criminal Jus­tice Reform was made public Tuesday. The recommendations focus primarily on the juvenile justice system, but it also expands on the panel’s previous recommendations for adult sentencing and corrections.

Much of the panel’s recommendations last year on the adult criminal justice system was incorporated into legislation overhauling the system this year.

Even though the Depart­ment of Juvenile Justice spends about two-thirds of its budget – $300 million for the current fiscal year – on out-of-home facilities, more than half of the young people in the system end up being convicted of another crime within three years,
the report says. That rate has held steady for about a decade.

The council said the high rates of recidivism are unacceptable, especially given the cost to taxpayers, and it says its recommendations will increase public safety and save money.

Young people found guilty of status offenses – which are crimes only because of the offender’s age, such as truancy – or misdemeanors make up about 25 percent of those in out-of-home placement, the report says. Many are considered to be at low risk of committing another crime. Even 39 percent of the young people locked up in long-term secure detention facilities, called youth development campuses, for felony convictions that require at least a year of incarceration are considered low-risk, the report says.

“The policy recommendations will further focus the state’s use of expensive, out-of-home facilities on serious, higher-risk youth,” the report says. “By doing this, the state will generate savings that can be used to increase the
availability and effectiveness of community-based options.”

The council says its recommendations are projected to decrease the number of juvenile offenders in out-of-home placement by about a third, from 1,908 to 1,269, by 2018.

The council estimates that its suggestions would save the state more than $88 million in that time period, and it recommends that a substantial portion of
that be invested in new appropriations to support community programs that have been proven to reduce recidivism.

“The council has again offered up an excellent report that will serve as a starting point for policy makers,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. “We know there’s room for dramatic improvement in the results we see in the juvenile justice system.”

Melissa Carter, the executive director of the Barton Child Law & Policy Center at Emory University, said she’s pleased with the recommendations.

The recommendations include:

• adjusting the penalty requirements for certain serious felonies to take into account the severity of the offense and the offender’s risk level

• keeping juvenile offenders convicted of status offenses and certain misdemeanors from being locked up

• implementing an incentive program to provide money to communities to create community-based programs to reduce recidivism

• requiring a risk and needs assessment before detention decisions

• establishing effective community-based programs around the state

• implementing various data collection and auditing measures to evaluate and measure performance

The council’s recommendations for the adult corrections system include:

• clarifying some existing laws

• requiring offenders to pay the cost of drug screens

• developing an assessment tool to identify non-violent offenders who could be safely put into a diversion program rather than prison

• considering a mandatory minimum safety valve to allow courts to deviate from mandatory minimums in some cases.


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