Repairing Georgia’s juvenile justice system will be a lot rougher than expected.
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Alternatives to lock up
Here are some of the goals of the juvenile justice overhaul signed into law this year that could save Georgia $85 million over five years.
Divert nonviolent youth to alternative programs instead of incarcerating them. About one-fourth of incarcerated juveniles are there for misdemeanors or minor offenses like truancy.
Implement better risk-assessment tools. The state is locking up too many juveniles not likely to become repeat offenders.
Create more community based programs as an alternative to incarceration. Parts of Georgia lack such alternatives, leaving incarceration as the only choice for judges.
Nearly 5,300 truants, runaways and unruly juveniles have been locked up in a state facility since 2004. They are called status offenders, as they have committed offenses that are crimes only because they are juveniles. An example is truancy. Below are the number of status offenders locked up in Georgia.
2004 — 632
2005 — 807
2006 — 740
2007 — 691
2008 — 640
2009 — 547
2010 — 431
2011 — 431
2012 — 362
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has chronicled the problems plaguing Georgia’s juvenile justice system for years. In a series of articles last year, the newspaper exposed the system’s struggles with inadequate staffing, violent conditions and children locked behind bars for relatively minor offenses. The AJC will continue to closely follow how Georgia punishes its youngest criminals.