Impact of Georgia’s Juvenile Justice Reforms

In Georgia, anyone under the age of 17 is considered a juvenile offender and enters a separate system for juvenile offenders, rather than the adult criminal justice system. A judge reviews their cases and decides an outcome. In a worst-case scenario, the outcome of a juvenile case can result in long-term confinement in a correctional facility. However, in most cases, the goal is not punishment, but rehabilitation.

Under some circumstances, depending on the juvenile’s age, he or she can be tried as an adult, and his or her case can be transferred to adult court. In the past, too many kids wound up in a juvenile detention facility. The system didn’t work. More than half of the kids previously in the system simply wound up in the system again within three years. The old system was also tremendously expensive. Each bed in a juvenile detention facility cost $90,000 yearly, and this resulted in a budget for Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice that was at a high of $300 million.

In 2013, the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2013 was passed as HB 242. This law not only reduced costs but also changed the philosophy of juvenile detention in Georgia. Under this law, only the most serious and dangerous juvenile offenders are kept in custody.

Once a minor enters the juvenile justice system, he or she is evaluated for a likelihood of violence. While kids who are evaluated as dangerous do go to state facilities, the ones who are evaluated as low risk are now diverted into community-based programs that are designed to manage the problems that led to criminal conduct, such as anger management, dysfunctional families, or difficulties with basic life skills. Juveniles are no longer locked up for “status offenses” like school truancy. The changes were expected to reduce prison costs and the likelihood that a juvenile will offend again.

According to officials, the reforms have been successful so far, reducing by 62% new youth secure detention commitments. It is reported that keeping kids at home under intensive supervision reduces instability and separates them from hardened criminals who might prey upon them or convert them. The different social services helping kids are better able to coordinate within the community.

One example is that every school that has a campus police officer now also has a probation officer. That means 102 schools share 64 officers. Moreover, schools have extended access to student records to the Department of Juvenile Justice. This allows for collaboration in figuring out the appropriate discipline rather than using a zero-tolerance approach in taking kids out of school for minor violations like truancy. Sharing information is saving $10 million annually in legal and administrative costs.

Due to the success of this reform, the governor has appointed a group to recommend reforms in the child-welfare system on the scale of the juvenile justice reforms. The governor believes that Georgia will soon be recognized as the leading state for meaningful criminal justice reform.

Parents whose children enter the system as juvenile offenders are often very concerned about the future impact of this experience. At our office, we take these concerns seriously and do our best to help make sure that a child accused of criminal conduct, whether truancy or a drug crime, obtains the best possible outcome. Contact experienced criminal defense attorney Tom Nagel at (404) 255-1600 or via our online form.

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