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Following a major criminal justice initiative in 2012, Georgia has enacted sweeping juvenile justice reforms. HB 242  passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Deal on May 2, 2013. The bill will reduce commitment of lower-level juvenile offenders to expensive secure facilities and boost proven, community-based alternatives.

HB 242 and accompanying budget initiatives, are expected to save the state nearly $85 million through 2018, avoiding the need to open two additional juvenile residential facilities. This allows the state to reinvest a portion of the savings to expand community-based programs and practices proven to reduce recidivism through a new $5 million voluntary, fiscal incentive grant program to counties.

The recommendations were developed by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, which was created in 2011.  The Council conducted an extensive review of the state's juvenile justice data and found that a significant number of the youth in expensive out-of-home facilities were adjudicated for low-level offenses and many of the youth in these facilities were assessed as a low risk to reoffend. The Council developed recommendations with technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Crime & Justice Institute.

During its first year, the Council analyzed the state's adult sentencing and corrections system and proposed recommendations that ultimately led to HB 1176.  That bill, which passed the legislature unanimously during the 2012 legislative session and was signed into law by the governor, is estimated to avert all of the projected prison growth by focusing prison space on high-risk offenders and will reduce recidivism by strengthening probation, drug courts, and other alternative sentencing options. In 2012, Gov. Deal extended the Council and expanded its membership for the purpose of reviewing the state's juvenile justice system.