Georgia has room to make its juvenile justice system more regular, cheaper and better, according to preliminary suggestions from a blue-ribbon panel charged with drafting an overhaul. States including Texas and Ohio have gone down the same path, which, say experts, is not completely smooth.
Georgia’s juvenile justice system lacks in various ways, according to the findings from a juvenile justice workgroup within Georgia’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform.
The state needs to do a better job evaluating kids, so that only the most acutely dangerous ones end up in jail, the workgroup announced last week. And Georgia needs a uniform method for deciding what to do with kids: court, probation or other options. Those and other reforms would save money, which the state should re-invest in county-level programs aimed at keeping kids out of state lockups.
Half of kids released from Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice custody in 2007 reoffended within three years, according to state numbers. According to research by the Pew Center on the States, which is providing technical assistance to Georgia, if the state wants to bring down that recidivism number, it’s got to better target services to high-risk kids, not do things like lock up youth for fairly mild behavior like breaking curfew.
“Some of the [workgroup] recommendations like the fiscal incentive one are based on what’s going on in some of the other states,” like Texas and Ohio, said Pew’s Jason Newman.
“And some of them are very Georgia-specific,” he continued.
Georgia needs to fix its unique laws governing the most acute crimes, according to the workgroup. Right now, the treatment for so-called “designated felons” covers crimes from smash-and-grab burglary to murder. The workgroup recommends breaking designated felony treatment into two tracks.
Georgia’s Council is tentatively scheduled for two December meetings. Members can amend, accept or reject any of the preliminary suggestions now on the table. Then it’s up to the Georgia General Assembly to enact any or all of the full Council’s recommendations.