Originally created 08/15/98

Juvenile panel wants funds for safety



ATLANTA -- Case workers in the field with young delinquents would be accompanied by an officer and carry a radio for safety, under a $225 million budget proposal approved by the Department of Juvenile Justice Board Friday.

The department's safety measures have been under scrutiny since May, when a social worker reported she was raped in her own car by a 14-year-old boy she was driving from a detention center to his group home. The boy had been considered nonviolent.

Case workers have been left alone to drive offenders to and from treatment centers, detention centers and group homes without a way to radio for help.

Chairman Sherman Day said the board has been concerned for years that case workers had to use their own cars.

"We had thought about this when we were trying to cut down on mileage (costs)," Mr. Day said. "It had just become a nightmare. But I don't want to diminish that (the attack) helped us to start thinking about it."

Child advocate Normer Adams says the money for worker safety have long been needed.

"Is the Department of Juvenile Justice impoverished? Absolutely," said Mr. Adams, executive director of the Georgia Association for Homes and Children's Services.

The department has been "expected to do more and more" with the same funding and "put workers at risk," Mr. Adams said.

The department's budget request includes a 5 percent reduction in existing spending, as required by Gov. Zell Miller, as well as a request for an additional $8 million for new programs.

The department would spend $3 million on 90 new cars, radio equipment and staff so case workers would not travel alone and could contact police from the car.

Also in the budget proposal are funds for mental health treatment for 20 youths, and providing alcohol and drug treatment in addition to a military-style regimen at the Augusta boot camp.

Mr. Day said the board is "not backing off of boot camps" despite pleas from child advocates and statistics which show that young veterans of shock incarceration have a high recidivism rate.

Turning the Augusta boot camp into a para-military rehabilitation program for youths is a step toward "trying to get a balance of options," Mr. Day said. "That's always been the board's target."

Boot camps have been a pillar of Mr. Miller's political campaigns.

The budget request for fiscal year 2000, which begins July 1 of next year, still must go to the governor before being considered by the Georgia Legislature in January.

No matter how much is cut from the request, the department is assured of getting extra money to beef up guard training, education and health services.

The U.S. Department of Justice threatened to sue the state if the department did not add nursing, mental health and teaching staff. The state will spend an additional $65 million in the next three years on personnel and capital improvements.