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Digital Learning, Re-Entry Lead List of Criminal Justice Priorities

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Georgia’s next justice reform priorities will include expanded digital learning in juvenile sectors and increased focus on transitioning paroled adult inmates back into society with more than a few bucks and a bus ticket.  Governor Nathan Deal discussed these priorities during an Atlanta speech on Tuesday, two days before he is scheduled to sign juvenile justice reform legislation.

Deal said the state will partner with Provost Academy Georgia to provide digital learning resources to juveniles, starting with some 140 who participate in the Georgia National Guard Youth Challenge programs at Fort Gordon near Augusta and Fort Stewart in Hinesville.

“These are young men and women who are on the verge of being sent into our juvenile detention system,” Deal said during prepared remarks at the Capital City Club in Atlanta.  “We are entering into an agreement with a digital based charter school, Provost, and they are going to be providing the opportunity for these young people to earn a regular high school diploma.” (Click here to watch on YouTube)

Currently, most Youth Challenge juveniles can work toward earning a GED certificate, but not a real high school diploma.  Deal predicted the Provost Academy model could be incorporated into the more traditional juvenile justice system which at any point has 22,000 youth either in detention or assigned to a community-based program.

“Young people who have been in trouble have a great deal of difficulty returning to the school which they left before they got in trouble,” Deal told the Atlanta Press Club audience.  “All of the social stigma that is associated with it is a huge deterrent for them to just simply drop out.

“If they can take that digital learning opportunity with them back home and they can continue their education without having to physically go back to the school where they have the bad reputation … the chance that they will get a high school diploma and be able to move on with their lives is much greater and we think that is the right thing to do,” the Governor said.

Provost Academy Georgia opened last August with 134 students.  Today it serves 1,276 high school students in distance learning structured for independent instruction or blended learning that provides an option to include face-to-face instruction.  Provost also operates Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers in Atlanta, Macon and Savannah with an Augusta site scheduled to open this month.  Provost programs are associated with Edison Learning.

Under the proposed plan, Provost Academy’s initial pilot program will enroll 70 Youth Challenge cadets apiece at Fort Gordon and Fort Stewart, starting in late July, said Provost executive director Monica Henson.  “Governor Deal is committed to extending opportunities to needy kids and these are the neediest of the needy,” Henson said.  “We really appreciate this opportunity because our mission is to serve historically underserved populations.”

On Thursday, Governor Deal is expected to sign HB 242 that emphasizes incarceration for serious juvenile offenders and less expensive community-based resources for non-violent offenders who are not a public safety risk.  These alternative treatment concepts are based on the December 2012 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations. The bill also includes a massive overhaul of the state’s juvenile civil code.  Click here to learn more about juvenile justice reform legislation.

Adult and juvenile justice reforms have been central targets for Deal since his inauguration.  The 2011 Legislature established the Special Council whose members produced the 2012 adult laws rewrite and now the 2013 juvenile laws rewrite.  For Deal, the finished and proposed work is a recognition that Georgia was at least spinning its wheels, if not going backward.

“We have been a state like many states that had been the hard-on crime approach with very little flexibility built into the system,” Deal said in his Atlanta speech.  “We recognized if you were objective about the issue that we were not achieving the results that people expected.”

Specifically, one-in-three paroled adults and one-in-two released juveniles return to the criminal or juvenile justice system within three years.  “What we were doing was not the right thing,” Deal said.  “It did not keep us safe and it did not save taxpayers money.  We were spending over $1 billion a year in our corrections programs and yet, nobody could be proud of those results.”

(Click here to learn more about justice reform on the Pew Charitable Trusts website.  Click here for the Right on Crime website at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.) 

May 1, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

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