Appeals judge: justice reform council focuses on recidivism
4:49 pm, October 12th, 2012
Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs told the Atlanta Bar Association’s Litigation Section this morning that the governor’s expanded criminal justice reform council is now focusing on lowering recidivism among youth offenders and should have a report of suggested policy changes ready by December.
This summer, Governor Nathan Deal renewed the council’s charter and increased its membership from 13 to 21. He also directed the council to study juvenile justice reforms.
Boggs, co-chairman of the reform council and a former Waycross Circuit Superior Court judge, said among the strategies being considered by the council are establishing ways to incorporate youth offenders back into their communities, revising the designated felony act to give judges more sentencing options and studying school referrals of delinquent youth into the juvenile court system.
“The earlier in the continuum that we can address criminal justice reform to keep people out of the adult criminal justice system, I think the better off this state will be,” Boggs said.
Housing youth offenders in youth detention centers costs the state roughly $91,000 a year per offender, Boggs said. The bulk of the cost is due to mandate on the juvenile justice system to provide a certified education to juveniles in custody.
The state currently has 619 offenders in youth detention centers, he said.
“By the time they get out, 65 percent will be back within three years,” said Boggs. “They don’t graduate from high school, but they sure do from juvenile court to superior court.”
Last year, the council recommended policy changes aimed at adult offenders which led to omnibus overhaul legislation known as House Bill 1176, which included establishing a statewide system of accountability courts, increasing some non-violent felony thresholds and lowering the penalties for some non-violent, drug-related crimes.
Boggs also said one of his goals is to build consensus among the 21-member panel, which includes judges, lawyers and lawmakers, for the restoration of judicial discretion in sentencing. The council last year failed to reach unanimous agreement on the issue. Some reduced minimum sentences were suggested to the state Legislature, but not all were included in the omnibus overhaul legislation known as House Bill 1176.
“Mandatory minimums take away discretion from that very judge who is in the courtroom who can see witnesses and who can judge the evidence and who can determine best aggravating and mitigating circumstances and who can decide best in that setting what is an appropriate sentence,” Boggs said.