Juvenile Justice Changes On Tap

December 20, 2012 13:00 pm

by Charlie · 20 comments

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

During the 2012 Session of the Georgia General Assembly, laws were changed to relax sentences on some crimes to help deal with Georgia’s growing prison population and save the related expenses of incarcerating so many of our fellow citizens.  Key to the debate was not only the direct costs to the state, but the indirect costs of lost future income of those with felonies on their “permanent record”, leaving them with fewer if any stable job opportunities – and opportunities to pay taxes – after their prison sentence ended.

Next year, Georgia will attempt to reform the way it handles many juvenile cases.  A report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Rhonda Cook notes that recommendations brought forward by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform will save taxpayers an estimated $88 Million over a five year period.  The cost would come directly from the savings of not incarcerating an estimated 640 youths at a cost to taxpayers of about $90,000 per person per year.

Prisons tend to serve three purposes at any given time, and the weight of the importance for each purpose tends to vary based on the inmate who is incarcerated.  Prison sentences serve as a punishment to those who have committed crimes.  They also serve to protect the innocent population by removing criminals from civilian life.  They also serve to rehabilitate those in the prison population so that when they have served their time, they can again be contributing and productive members of society.

For most who enter the juvenile justice system, rehabilitation is and should be the primary purpose.  Youthful offenders who are not being tried as adults are those who will either learn a better path or eventually become a recurring part of the adult prison population.  What is done with juvenile offenders after sentencing will have a large effect on how this plays out for the rest of their lives – determining if they will be a contributing member to society or a cost to the state.

Georgia is moving its focus away from the “tough on crime” approaches that worked so well, at least politically, for the past few decades.  The reality of the expense of this approach has left the state with little choice in that.  The new focus will involve more juveniles diverted to community based groups instead of tough punishment in a prison setting.

Sentences in youth detention centers, which currently involve a 65% recidivism rate according to Cook’s report, will be limited to violent offenses and those with multiple repeat offenses.  Others who commit misdemeanors such as drinking under age or truancy – crimes that are only crimes because of the juvenile’s age – will be diverted away from the detention centers and to community based groups and programs unless it is their fourth offense.  Currently 25% of the population in state youth detention centers is made up of juveniles who have committed misdemeanor crimes.

The change in approach appears to be a reasonable and sound change in direction of policy and attitude toward juvenile offenders.  It seems clear that many who currently spend time in youth detention centers are not receiving the proper motivation and/or environment to focus on rehabilitation.  Keeping those who commit lesser infractions out of this system will enable them to be placed closer to positive role models and on paths toward future success, rather than joining a new network of current and future hardened criminals.

It is nice to see the state make an attempt to differentiate between the types of people in the juvenile prison population and work to save those who can and should be put on a positive path for their future.  It is a bit troubling, however, that the main reason the state will be making this move is because it will save money.  That’s a nice side effect, but at some point the state must look at the cost of its adult prison population, the current recidivism rate of its juvenile population, and make the strong correlation to costs.

We cannot accept status quo of recidivism after this policy change and judge it a success merely on cost savings.  At risk youth present an area worthy of state investment.  Georgians need to make sure we get this one right, even if ultimately there is no immediate cost savings.  After all, we can either pay now, or we can pay later when these kids become adults and part of a more expensive criminal justice problem.

dorian December 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Actually, what is says is no residential placement for any misdemeanor or status offenses. Let’s consider that. The felony thresh hold for theft is now $1500 bucks, so theoretically if you’re under 17 you can steal $1499.00 worth of stuff every day and never be detained for it. Nice going guys.

John Konop December 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

What would you suggest? The current system is not working. Once a kid has a record a job, school…… is very tough……the legal especially hurts poor people with less options ie longer sentence, less education options, less rehabilitation options……

dorian December 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Juvenile records are sealed. It doesn’t affect their ability to get a job unless they need a job with security clearance. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem to happen all that often. The current system isn’t working according to who? Pew and the Annie E Casey Foundation? Give me break. That’s like taking diet advice from Pavarotti (if he weren’t dead). You want to help kids teach them that there are consequences for their actions and sometimes those consequences can be severe. Let’s see how well hugging them and telling them their special and worrying over their self esteem works out.

John Konop December 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm

What is wrong with this?

………Sentences in youth detention centers, which currently involve a 65% recidivism rate according to Cook’s report, will be limited to violent offenses and those with multiple repeat offenses. Others who commit misdemeanors such as drinking under age or truancy – crimes that are only crimes because of the juvenile’s age – will be diverted away from the detention centers and to community based groups and programs unless it is their fourth offense. Currently 25% of the population in state youth detention centers is made up of juveniles who have committed misdemeanor crimes……..

Noway December 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Actually, Dorian, I think juvie records are still sealed even when going for a clearance.

dorian December 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm

There won’t be anything wrong with it John until it is your business or your home or your stuff or your kid that gets assaulted. You may be right Norway unless it is a designated felony.

Noway December 20, 2012 at 5:02 pm

I said that because I have been doing federal clearance investigations for about 25 years for a bunch of the alphabet soup agencies. I have never been asked to review a juvenile record in all that time. It’s funny because you’d think fed investigators stereotypically might be cavalier in what they might think we could demand. Not so! We are the most scrupulous in asking to see things. The privacy laws would bury us under the jail if we crossed any line like that.

John Konop December 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm

What happens if they are charged like an adult?

John Konop December 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Like the Wilson case he was 17 and was given a 10 year sentence……..

dorian December 20, 2012 at 6:38 pm

If they are charged as an adult, they are treated like an adult starting with the warrant (as opposed to the juvenile complaint form) all through the process. Obviously, they are not housed in an adult jail and there are some notice requirements to the superior court in terms of their detention, but procedurally they are treated as if they were an adult. There are only seven offenses for which this can happen though. The so called seven deadly sins which include things like rape, murder, and just about anything with “aggravated” in front of it: battery, child molestation, sodomy. Also, this only applies to someone 13 years of age or older. The Wilson case resulted (appropriately so) in a change to the aggravated child molestation (et al) statute and added a romeo and juliet provision making it a misd. in certain ages depending on the age of the alleged victim and the age difference between the participants. It’s either 3 or 4 years, I can’t recall off the top of my head. In addition, even int he case of one of the seven deadly sins the DA can send the case back down to juvenile court pre indictment in all cases. The Superior Court can hold a hearing and send it down post indictment if the offense is one that does not carry a life sentence.

John Konop December 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Would you have treated Wilson like an adult? Since he was 17 at the time, could they have treated him like a minor? Also if a minor gets into a fight they can be treated like an adult? Who makes the call?

dorian December 21, 2012 at 7:33 am

He was 17, so he had to be treated like an adult. The answer is yes, because that is what the law is. Once you reach 17 and break the law, you’re a adult. It’s easy for me to armchair quarterback Wilson, but I really don’t know anything other than what was in the media. What I do know is it can’t happen again if the ages fit that window. If you classify fighting as mutual combat in public, it is called “affray” and it is always a misd. If the participants were under 17 they would always be treated like kids, and if they were 17 or older they would always be treated like adults. There is no discretion on anyone’s part. I’m talking about fisticuffs, not a gunfight.

John Konop December 21, 2012 at 7:50 am

17 year olds are treated like adults in Georgia? Do you not think we need some discretion in the system?

dorian December 21, 2012 at 8:34 am

It’s been that way for two hundred years. I guess I’m not arrogant or “progressive” enough to find a solution without a problem. Having said that, I am content to sit back and let the progressives enjoy the fruits of decriminalization for a while and see where that takes us.

John Konop December 21, 2012 at 10:03 am

Would you call William F Buckley a progressive?

William F. Buckley: ‘Legalize drugs’

………William F. Buckley, editor of the conservative magazine National Review, believes with illegal drugs so readily available, the war against them has been lost. (170K AIFF sound or 170K WAV sound) Buckley would legalize marijuana immediately, then study how far to go legalizing other drugs.

Supporters claim drug legalization will ease burdens on prisons and shift billions of dollars from law enforcement to treatment and anti-drug education. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke would go a step further: putting government in charge of distributing drugs to addicts.

“I’m interested in bringing peace on the street … (but) … the war on drugs is simply bringing more killing rather than less killing. I’d like to take the profit out of distributing drugs at the street level.”……

http://cgi.cnn.com/US/9601/legalize_drugs/

dorian December 21, 2012 at 10:54 am

John, I wasn’t really even thinking about drugs, but since you mentioned it no one can seriously advocate legalizing all drugs. For example, meth. In addition to what it does to a person physically and mentally, the waste from a meth lab can literally be a toxic waste dump. You want to know who pays to clean it up? You do with your tax dollars. Sometimes, it can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Moreover, the most commonly prosecuted drug crimes are not illegal drugs per se at all. They are prescription drugs. Do we legalize those? If so, it defeats the purpose of having prescriptions in the first place, doesn’t it? The problem that lay people have with these issues is that they are vastly more complicated than a cool sound byte.

John Konop December 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

Dorian,

What I do know is the “war on Drugs” has created more damage than good, especially in the poorer communities. No matter what we do no solution is a 100%. But decriminalizing drugs and treating like a health issue would not only save a ton of money it would help more people than the current system. The biggest winners today are gangs, terrorist and people making money off the legal system.

I am big believer in getting the government off our backs not in our house……..We incarcerate at one of the highest levels in the world, do you really think we cannot do a better job?

dorian December 21, 2012 at 1:45 pm

That’s awfully trite. Where couldn’t anyone do a better job? Could your business make more money? Could you live a healthier life? Could I spend more time with my kids? Is there any circumstance under the sun where things couldn’t be done better? The thing is, Atlanta doesn’t want to fix the problem, they want to ignore it. They gutted the funding for DFCS resulting in fewer caseworkers, and thus fewer cases. Suddenly, child abuse is down. They increased the felony threshold for various criminal offenses and suddenly crime is down. Let’s now legalize drugs and solve the drug problems.

I don’t know you, so I could be way off, but these poorer communities you talk about, how many have you been in? You think they like having dealers sell crack next door? You think they like the wind strewing all those little baggies over their yard on a house they’ve owned for 40 years? But suddenly treating it like a health issue is going to make all that stop? It’s going to make people who need to steal to feed an addiction stop?

The flaw in all you guys logic is you assume that you can somehow legislate self-preservation. You can’t. It’s impossible. If a person doesn’t want to be helped, you can’t help them. For those that want to be helped, we already have drug courts in almost every circuit where a person who wants to get helped can get helped.

John Konop December 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Dorian,

The rules in drug court are very difficult for kids with little support financially. Second why do you think criminalizing the behavior helps on a macro? We have alcoholics and cigarette addicts do you think making it illegal would help or hurt the situation? As a businessman I realize nothing is a 100%, I just make the best weighted decision.

Dave Bearse December 22, 2012 at 11:15 am

“It is a bit troubling, however, that the main reason the state will be making this move is because it will save money. That’s a nice side effect, but at some point the state must look at the cost of its adult prison population, the current recidivism rate of its juvenile population, and make the strong correlation to costs.”

Many conservatives are always for smaller government, except when they’re not. Taxes may be the only thing that can bring them around. The military and war on drugs are a couple more examples of unproductive spending untouchables of large government that won’t be brought to heel until it’s a matter of money.

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