The state’s new juvenile code will take effect in January 2014.
Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 242, which overhauls statutes dealing with neglected and delinquent youth, this morning at a detention center in Dalton.
The legislation also includes several recommendations by the governor’s criminal justice reform council aimed at keeping low-risk youth offenders out of detention centers, including creating a two-tiered system of designated felonies and creating more community-based treatment programs.
“We acted because Georgia could not afford its own numbers,” Deal said in a written statement. “Not when we have more than half of all youth offenders ending up back in a detention center or prison within three years. Not when we have each youth in a detention center costing Georgia taxpayers $90,000 or more every year and not when 40 percent of juveniles in detention facilities are considered a low risk to reoffend.”
The bill calls for allotting $5 million as incentives for communities to create community-based treatment programs, which would give judges more sentencing options. The new laws also are expected to save the state $85 million over the next five years and curb the need to open two new residential detention centers for juvenile offenders.
The governor’s criminal justice reform council, which is made up of lawyers, judges, lawmakers and law enforcement officers, worked closely with the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Those organizations also assisted the state with its adult criminal justice reforms last year.
“This legislation marks a turning point in how Georgia approaches crime and punishment,” said Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s public safety performance project, in a written statement. “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.”
Research conducted by the council found that the state gave the Department of Juvenile Justice $300 million in fiscal year 2013, of which nearly two-thirds went to operating facilities where juvenile offenders were locked up. During that same time, more than 65 percent of youth released from those facilities committed new offenses within three years—and the rate had increased since 2003.