In 2012, Governor Deal signed an executive order extending the term of his inter-branch Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians and it enlarged its membership. The council was given the task of reviewing the juvenile justice system and making recommendations for improvement with aims of protecting public safety, holding offenders accountable and controlling state costs.
In 2013 the state budget for the Department of Juvenile Justice exceeded $300 million. Despite this money being spent the recidivism rate remained high. The reform wanted to reduce the number of juvenile offenders in detention centers and save $88 million through 2018.
House Bill 242 revised the Juvenile code in several ways. HB 242 created two categories of “designated felonies” to differentiate dispositional options for non-violent and low-risk offenders from more serious offenders. Some of the changes from this legislation are:
• It provided jurisdiction for juvenile courts to review independent living services offered to children involved with the child welfare system after the age of 18;
• It provides a legal definition of essential terms and clarifies that a child is a legal party to a dependency proceeding and entitled to be present in court unless the court makes a finding that it is not in the best interest of the child to attend;
• It encourages courts to refer cases for remediation if appropriate;
• It clarifies applicable timelines for various proceedings and decisions;
• It promotes preservation of relationships for children in foster care by requiring joint placement of siblings and visitation with parents or other relatives;
• It creates an option to reinstate parental rights for a child in foster care under certain circumstances;
• It provides a right for a child in a dependency proceeding to be represented by a lawyer and by a guardian “ad litem” who should be Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA);
• It provides that a child’s right to be represented by an attorney cannot be waived by the child’s parent;
• It allows the court to order behavioral evaluations and competency evaluations under certain circumstances.
HB 242 hopes to reduce the number of repeat offenders and bring the cost down.
It emphasizes community based programs over residential detention centers for non-violent offenders. It also provides judges with greater discretion in sentencing and offers more mental health counseling.
Georgia spends $90,000 a year on each youth offender behind bars and 65% end up back in jail within 3 years. HB 242 is estimated on saving $28m over the several next years. Rehabilitation keeps cost down and hopefully will lessen the recidivism rate. HB242 will try to rehabilitate low-risk offenders and keep them in their communities and provide grants for substance abuse treatment facilities and family counseling rather than send low-risk offender to youth detention centers.
Georgia prior to HB242, would send low-risk offenders to jail. It had little rehabilitation with no treatment centers being provided. The jails were overcrowded and it created recidivism. They did not try to keep families together with help of family counseling. So trying to keep the cost down something had to be done and with the help of HB 242 this is being accomplished.
I believe these changes were needed and are for the better. If you can catch a kid while still young and rehabilitate him and keep him from becoming a criminal that would help everyone. It would keep the cost for Georgia down, it would also help young people to become productive members of society and possibly break the cycle.
HB242 seems to be working, according to the Report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform – 2016, (Page 7) , since 2013 Georgia has decreased its population of youth in secure confinement by 17 % and reduced the number youth awaiting placement by 51%. This shows that youth’s needs are being met in the community. Every Judicial circuit in Georgia now have access to an evidence-based intervention for juveniles as the state steadily increased the availability of programs proven to reduce juvenile recidivism.