Pew and Casey Applaud Georgia Leaders for Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Reform

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Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law today comprehensive legislation that will improve the state's juvenile justice system by reducing youth recidivism rates and cutting costs to taxpayers. The measure, House Bill 242, is expected to save the state $85 million through 2018 and avoid the opening of two additional juvenile residential facilities.

The policy reforms were generated by the state's Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians, which was co-chaired by David Werner, the governor's deputy chief of staff, and Georgia Appeals Judge Michael Boggs. The council and state leaders requested and received intensive technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Adam Gelb, director of Pew's public safety performance project, stated:

“This legislation marks a turning point in how Georgia approaches crime and punishment. Building on last year's criminal justice reforms, state leaders again reached bipartisan consensus by using data and research to craft policies aimed at making sure Georgia's tax dollars are producing the best possible public safety results.

“The unanimous support for this law is the direct result of the leadership of Governor Deal, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, and members of the special council. We also applaud legislative leaders, including Chairman Wendell Willard and Sen. Charlie Bethel, for their efforts in advancing this landmark legislation.”

Bart Lubow, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, stated:

“We applaud Governor Deal and the Georgia Legislature for taking positive steps today. With this new policy guidance, everyone who plays a role in the state's juvenile justice system has an opportunity to help develop practices that reflect the new knowledge about how to respond more effectively to youth crime. We can move toward a result where young people who get into trouble with the law have a real chance to turn their lives around.”

Background

For the second straight year, the Georgia Legislature has unanimously adopted recommendations from the bipartisan, interbranch Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians. In 2011, the legislature created the special council to improve the state's adult sentencing and corrections system. The council produced a set of comprehensive, data-driven recommendations, which the legislature adopted in HB 1176 during the last session.

In 2012, Gov. Deal issued an executive order extending the council and expanding its focus to juvenile corrections. Over the past year, with intensive assistance from Pew and Casey, the council conducted a detailed analysis of Georgia's juvenile corrections system and developed policy options designed to increase public safety, hold offenders accountable, and reduce juvenile justice costs.

A central finding of the analysis was the poor return on investment for the state's juvenile corrections system. In fiscal 2013, the Department of Juvenile Justice was appropriated $300 million, nearly two-thirds of which was used to operate secure residential facilities at an average annual cost of approximately $90,000 per bed. Despite such high expenditures, more than 65 percent of youth released from youth development campuses, the state's secure placement facilities, are re-adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a criminal offense within three years of release, a rate that has increased since 2003.

The special council identified more than a dozen opportunities to make the system more efficient and cost-effective, including the required use of objective risk-assessment instruments before committing youth to the state, and the council's recommendations were included in HB 242. In addition, the fiscal 2014 budget includes a $5 million voluntary fiscal incentive grant program for counties to expand evidence-based programs and practices, which was a recommendation of the council. The $85 million in expected savings will allow the state to reinvest a portion of the savings in community-based programs and practices proven to reduce recidivism.

In addition to the council recommendations, HB 242 streamlines and revises the state's juvenile code relating to both juvenile justice and child welfare, including creating new processes for cases involving children in need of services. These provisions were introduced by Rep. Willard, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

The special council recommendations included in HB 242 and the state's fiscal 2014 budget will:

  • Focus the state's out-of-home facilities on higher-level youth offenders.
  • Reduce recidivism among youth under state supervision.
  • Improve government performance.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is a nonprofit organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and stimulate civic life.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation's children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity, and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work, and grow. More information available at aecf.org

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