Likelihood of juveniles to return to jail up 6 percent

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ATLANTA -- A new report shows that children and teenagers locked up for breaking the law have become 6 percent more likely to commit another crime than they were in 2003.

The figures come from a study conducted by the Pew Center on the States at the request of a commission appointed to propose an overhaul to the juvenile-justice system in Georgia. The commission is investigating ways that could make better use of the funds the state spends on public safety.

The same commission made recommendations last year that the General Assembly enacted that created special courts in every county for addicts and also lowered the sentences for crimes like forgery to reduce the number of prisoners and the expense of guarding them.

Locking up juveniles costs significantly more than housing adult prisoners. The state spends $245 per day on each juvenile detainee, an expense that some advocates say could be better spent on rehabilitation by keeping low-risk offenders in their homes.

“It’s not an easy issue, but I think what we do know now is that there are some programs, some supervision strategies, that have been effective in reducing the likelihood that these youths will re-offend,” said Jason Newman, the Pew Center’s state manager.

The center found that the rate in which the average juvenile in the system committed another crime within three years after release hasn’t changed much since 2003 except for those sent to youth detention centers, which are usually the most violent and at the greatest risk of committing another crime anyway. Only one out of eight juvenile offenders spends his sentence in detention.

The Department of Juvenile Justice issued a statement late Monday saying it had noticed the increase and had been trying to reverse it by partnering with churches, increased mental treatments after release and by minimizing the number of low-risk juveniles locked up so it can focus on those with the greatest need for attention.

“No one can say with exact certainty what has increased the number of young recidivists in Georgia since 2003,” the statement said. “What is known is that youth who enter deeper levels of Georgia’s juvenile justice system often have higher risk levels and increased likelihood of recidivating.”

It also noted that the increased rate is a factor of the reduced population behind bars since those left are a higher concentration of serious offenders. Plus, there has been a rise in the number of hard-core cases with drug addictions.

The commission meets again Sept. 18 to discuss the report and to review how the juvenile justice system operates. It faces a year-end deadline to make recommendations to the legislature.

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