By Mike Klein
Buoyed by freshly funded incarceration alternatives, Georgia reduced new juvenile justice detention commitments by an astonishing 62 percent during the nine month period that ended in June. As a result, the average daily secure population rate is also trending down as is the length of time juveniles are waiting for a detention center placement.
“While it’s still early, we feel great about where we are,” Department of Juvenile Justice assistant deputy commissioner Joe Vignati told the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform on Tuesday morning. This was the Council’s first meeting since May although several committees met during the summer.
DJJ Deputy Commissioner Carl Brown led off with an historical overview of Georgia juvenile justice that recalled a $300 million annual budget in 2012, nearly two thirds of that amount spent on secure detention at $90,000 per bed per year. Brown said traditionally 25 percent of youths were incarcerated for low level offenses, misdemeanors and status offenses. Forty percent were assessed as being low risk to re-offend.
Juvenile justice was the 2012 Criminal Justice Reform Council’s principal focus and it resulted in a new way of thinking about kids. Juveniles who commit the most serious crimes and who pose a threat to public safety should be incarcerated and dealt with appropriately, but there would be new community-based program options for kids who primarily are just dysfunctional, sometimes severely so, but without criminal intentions.
House Bill 242 created a framework for alternative programs. Governor Nathan Deal’s FY 2014-15 budgets provided more than $13 million to help create community-based services. The first measurement is the nine-month period that began in October 2013 and ended in June. “Here’s the big bang, what have we achieved?” said DJJ assistant deputy commissioner Joe Vignati.
During the 2012 calendar year juvenile court judges sentenced 2,603 youths to incarceration. That became the base year with an objective goal to reduce the number by 15 percent or 390 fewer juveniles sentenced to incarceration between October 2013 and June 2014. Instead of 15 percent it was 62 percent and instead of 390 fewer sentences it was 1,614 fewer sentences.
Youths incarcerated at secure facilities declined 14 percent from 1,673 in October 2013 to 1,440 in June 2014. The number of youths awaiting a detention bed placement was down from 269 at the beginning of October 2013 to 157 at the end of June 2014, and it continues to improve.
“As of yesterday it’s my understanding that we have only 39 youth awaiting placement,” Vignati told the Council. “This is important because we make sure we are getting kids where they need to be. Also, now we are able to operate safe, secure facilities. We don’t have overcrowding.”
To learn more, watch these YouTube Channel videos recorded at the meeting: