Progress in Georgia, and the People Agree

John Lashstudy released March 5 by the Pew CharitableTrusts’ Public Safety Performance Project focuses on the attitudes of Georgia voters about the juvenile justice system. In light of the projected passage of a major rewrite of the juvenile  code the report’s release is a timely confirmation that legislators are moving in a direction supported by most people of the state.

“[V]oters want a juvenile justice system that keeps communities safe and holds youth offenders accountable while helping them become productive citizens,” the report said. “Georgians strongly support proposals to reduce the size and cost of the juvenile corrections system and to reinvest savings into effective alternatives to secure facilities.” These attitudes carried across party lines with small margins of difference.

Statements such as, “Send fewer lower-risk juvenile offenders to a secure facility and use some of the savings to create a stronger probation system that holds juvenile offenders accountable for their crimes.” and “It does not matter whether a juvenile offender is in secure custody for 18 or 24 or 30 months. What really matters is that the system does a better job of making sure that when a juvenile does get out, he or she is less likely to commit another crime,” respectively received 87 and 89 percent approval overall.

Overall, voters supported reducing detention and replacing it with intense probation, keeping low-level offenders out of confinement, reducing mandatory minimums for designated felonies, and reinvesting savings into locally-run programs.

According to state and local officials, the new law should lead to more community-based programming, and such programs will have to be evidence-based and show a measurable decrease in out-of-home placements. Programs that fit these requirements are numerous, and include mediation, restorative conferencing, intense probation, treatment for substance abuse and many others.The requirements of each court will drive what kinds of programs are adopted, allowing courts to partner with local nonprofit groups and other service providers to find the best local solutions.

Laws like these can have long-range positive impacts.Simply decreasing confinement is a great goal, especially considering that for most kids detention leads to worse outcomes. Adding programs that can make a real change in kids’ lives is even better. This law goes a long way towards improving the current system, and it feels good to see research, public opinion and legislation on the same page.

What will we see next n Georgia? My vote is for changes in transfer laws that send kids to adult court.This is an area left unaddressed by the new juvenile law, and another area where real change can be affected.

Let’s be happy for now, but then let’s get to work on what to do next.

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