Juvenile Justice Folks are in the Fixing Families Business

By Mike Klein

Mike Klein  Editor. Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Mike Klein
Editor. Georgia Public Policy Foundation

This idea is almost too obvious:  Fix families and you might alleviate pressure on overburdened state justice systems as there might be fewer folks showing up in juvenile and adult criminal courts.  This week the Campaign for Youth and Justice echoed that idea in a new report that states:

“Given the history of the juvenile justice system, which has historically kept families at arm’s length, coupled with organizational and fiscal challenges facing agencies today, it is not surprising that many justice systems are struggling to meet the needs of families.”

The Family Comes First executive summary further states that despite legitimate efforts to improve outcomes, “what has been missing is a vision of what a transformed justice system looks like when that vision honors and supports families before and after their children have contact with the system.”

Sound familiar?  It should.  Last week Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske told the Public Policy Foundation that dysfunctional families are the primary reason that juveniles enter delinquency and in the worst cases commit crimes of such serious nature that they are charged as adults.

Teske targeted the proliferation of single parent dynamics and parents with weak problem solving skills.   Teske served on the 2012 Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform and he was a leading architect of its juvenile recommendations that were signed into law last week by Governor Nathan Deal.   (Click here to watch Teske on YouTube or click here to read the article.)

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The Campaign for Youth and Justice offers several recommendations that you will already find in Georgia juvenile justice reform legislation signed last week by Governor Nathan Deal.  For instance one recommendation in Family Comes First would be, “… states should develop fiscal strategies to fund prevention, diversion, and family and community-based programs …”

Georgia already is moving in that direction as it will make $5 million available in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to assist communities with the expansion and creation of local-based programs. Another Family Comes First recommendation is the adoption of improved assessment tools, again, an idea advanced for two years by Georgia’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform in adult corrections reforms adopted last year and again this spring in HB 242, the juvenile justice reforms legislation.

The Family Comes First executive summary states, “In the past few years, the juvenile justice field has made major strides in elevating the importance of family involvement to overall system reform efforts. We have come a long way even though we have far to go.”  It says families must have improved access to basic information.

My view: This makes sense as you don’t know what you don’t know until you need to know it.  No doubt, a first encounter with the juvenile justice system can become a dizzying experience.

(Click here to learn more about criminal justice public policy on the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project website.)