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Next Move for Georgia Justice Reform Belongs to Legislators



Republished by Right on Crime and Capitol@Issue.

Georgia legislators will soon have the opportunity to reconfigure the state’s troubled adult misdemeanor private probation industry, redesign juvenile justice technology information tools and with some urging from their governor, create a new state agency to manage the tangled web of services to help released inmates transition back into their communities. Given the General Assembly’s track record of overwhelming support for previous justice reforms the ideas that you see discussed here are quite likely to happen.

The vision for these changes is contained in the 2014–2015 Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) report that was unanimously approved by its members late last week. More than just a reflection of new policy ideas, the 72-page document fully chronicles the history of Georgia’s current justice reform that began with Governor Nathan Deal’s inauguration in January 2011.

Dozens of CCJR recommendations are contained in the report. A few are game-changers:

Adult Misdemeanor Probation

Last spring Governor Deal vetoed a misdemeanor probation reform bill because it would have exempted providers from the Open Records Act. An official state audit was highly critical of the financial practices of some providers and it said some exceeded their legal authorities. Then in December the state Supreme Court overturned “tolling,” the long-standing practice under which arrest warrants were issued and sentences were paused when offenders failed to report or fulfill their court-ordered obligations. Justices said the state has no legal authority for those actions.

The Council said private probation providers should be placed under tighter financial scrutiny including strict disclosure rules. The Council recommended the adoption of community service options for misdemeanor probationers when they are delinquent paying fines or fees because of financial insolvency. At the same time, delinquent probationers would be guaranteed a hearing before new discipline. Further, the Council said that “tolling” should be enacted into law.

Juvenile Justice Information Sharing

Players in the adult criminal justice system have access to deep data that is maintained by the Georgia Crime Information Center at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Players in the juvenile justice system have nothing remotely close to the sophisticated adult system. The Council recommendation is to create a very sophisticated juvenile justice information system.

Under the CJRC proposal the Council of Juvenile Court Judges would create a “dictionary” of common terms for the purposes of statewide reporting. A data exchange would be created to share the information and a data depository would be updated daily by individual courts for use by all juvenile courts statewide and for purposes of statewide reporting. This project would bring together several entities and it would carefully comply with federal laws about juvenile records.

Department of Community Supervision

Last month Deal used his State of the State address to propose creation of DCS to assist released offenders toward a successful transition back to the free world.  The big idea here is to coordinate the tools to help reduce recidivism. DCS would likely have up to 2,000 employees drawn from adult corrections, juvenile justice and pardons and parole. The Council recommended that the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry should move from adult corrections to DCS. It also recommended moving the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council that oversees probation officers and private entities.

The three ideas discussed here are just a small portion of the CCJR report. There is a link below to the complete document. The Council will reconvene in late spring after the 2015 General Assembly concludes.

The agenda will likely include whether cases that involve 17-year-olds should be heard in adult courts – that is current Georgia law – or in juvenile courts, which is where you will find age 17 cases in more than 40 states. This year’s Council heard testimony but concluded it needs more information before making any recommendation. Mandatory minimum sentencing options and new discussions about community-based mental health services could also work their way onto the 2015 – 2016 agenda.

Additional Resources

2014 – 2015 GA Criminal Justice Reform Council Report

Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council Website

Georgia’s New Justice Agency Would Have Massive Footprint

Attacking the Bad Headlines Around Misdemeanor Private Probation

Georgia Targets Huge Gap With Juvenile Justice Databank Project

(Mike Klein has written about Georgia criminal justice reform since 2010.  He held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Mike on LinkedIn.)

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia’s New Justice System Agency Would Have Massive Footprint



Governor Nathan Deal’s proposed Department of Community Supervision (DCS) would almost certainly open for business as a large state agency with perhaps two thousand or more employees, according to state officials who are familiar with ongoing strategic discussions.

Governor Deal emphasized Georgia’s commitment to adult and juvenile justice system reforms during Monday’s Inaugural Address but he waited until Wednesday’s State of the State speech to announce DCS. Legislation is needed to create the agency; therefore, there is no proposed budget for DCS in the Governor’s Office Fiscal Year 2016 Budget released Friday.

“On many occasions, one troubled family or neighborhood will deal with multiple agencies, from Pardons and Parole to DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services) to the Department of Juvenile Justice to the Department of Corrections,” Deal told legislators on Wednesday.

“Under current policy those agencies often don’t coordinate effectively on these cases. This fails to bring a holistic approach to the needs at hand, and it doesn’t deliver services efficiently,” Deal said. “For this reason I am proposing to create the Department of Community Supervision to eliminate redundancy and enhance communication between these related groups.”

Here is what we learned about the potential structure by speaking with justice system officials:

• 1,100 or more adult felony probation officers would transfer from the Department of Corrections (DOC) and 400 or more Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) field officers.
• Georgia adult misdemeanor probation is handled almost exclusively by the private sector; DCS would supervise the approximately 775 probation officers statewide.
• A large number of personnel would transfer from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) but the number is less certain.
• The new agency would require its own commissioner and administration team to include a chief financial officer, human resources team and other typical agency services.
• And: it would need a headquarters with Atlanta being a potential location. Two-of-three contributing agencies – Juvenile Justice and Pardons and Paroles – are located in Atlanta. The Corrections headquarters is in Forsyth but it also has a major Atlanta offices presence.

DCS is a logical step in a comprehensive multi-year justice system strategy that Georgia began to implement in January 2011. Reforms had been underway for many years but often they were not always well-coordinated and there was widespread agreement that a new focus could slow down the growth in adult prisoner populations, reduce or at least stabilize incarceration costs, save hundreds of millions of dollars by eliminating new prisons construction and give released inmates and probationers better tools to create personal success.

The first step was creation of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform in 2011. The Council has consistently embraced alternative sentencing options for non-violent offenders. Accountability courts and community-based programs have given judges more options than just incarceration. Lawmakers passed very similar looking adult reforms in 2012 and juvenile reforms in 2013.

The second step focused on recidivism reduction, that is, the percentage rate at which offenders are charged with a new crime within three years of their initial release. The Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry was founded and is currently housed at DOC in Atlanta. Its mission has been to define problems and articulate potential solutions to challenges that include food, housing, education, employment, transportation and more for released offenders.

Next week the Council on Criminal Justice Reform is expected to recommend that Transition, Support and Re-Entry move to DCS, along with the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council (CMPAC) that oversees adult misdemeanor probation statewide. CMPAC is currently attached to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Community Supervision would become the second agency created during Deal’s administration. The Department of Public Health became a standalone agency when it was separated from the Department of Community Health in July 2011.

(Mike Klein has covered Georgia adult and juvenile justice reforms since early 2010.  He has held executive leadership positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and  Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

January 18, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Targets Huge Gap with Juvenile Justice Databank Project



For discussion purposes, let’s imagine you are a juvenile court judge somewhere in Georgia. A young man and his attorney are standing before you, pleading the boy’s case. Within minutes you will decide whether the boy is sentenced to detention or a community-based program.

Something about how the young man tells his story makes you question, what else is going on here?  Has this kid been kicking around without a family, without role models, without direction and what he needs is help or, is this one of those kids who really needs to be off the streets?  Is this kid about to hurt himself or someone else?  What is the right decision here?

So knowing that these questions must be answered you log onto the state’s massive juvenile justice databank that contains everything you need. The young man’s entire legal record is there, all his previous interactions with the juvenile justice system, a record of every arrest, all previous court decisions, outstanding warrants for other alleged crimes committed in any county statewide.

It’s all there, everything you need to decide between detention and a treatment program.

Except that it’s not there because, astonishingly, there is no statewide juvenile justice databank. An adult databank – the Georgia Crime Information Center — is maintained at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. There is no comparable juvenile resource. Georgia juvenile judges sometimes operate in a weird blind man’s alley when they try to understand the true picture about a troubled kid.  Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steve Teske has said sometimes he uses his cell phone from the bench to contact other judges who might know something about a juvenile who is standing before him in court.

That should start to change next year with the anticipated creation of a juvenile justice data dictionary and repository that would be accessible throughout law enforcement. The Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) appointed by Governor Nathan Deal has worked on the project all year. It unanimously approved recommendations during a meeting this week in Atlanta.

Pulling this idea together meant coordinating stakeholders who have reason to make this work:

• The Council of Juvenile Court Judges technology committee would create a dictionary of defined data elements to be used for the statewide reporting of all juvenile justice data. An electronic exchange that complies with U.S. Justice Department global justice data sharing standards would be created to share the information.
• Data would be accessible through a new electronic repository that would be maintained in a partnership between the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Council of Juvenile Court Judges and the Administrative Office of the Courts. Information would be updated daily and would be available to individual courts and for statewide reporting purposes.
• Further, the Department of Juvenile Justice would fund the entire project because it is the single state entity that is responsible for housing youth and state juvenile records.

The Council recommendation does not include a fiscal note. It also does not propose legislation during the 2015 General Assembly. Next year would be devoted to creating and launching the model under the auspices of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges and the CCJR with an expectation that the dictionary and its usage would be recommended as a state law in 2016.

In the juvenile justice oversight committee meeting on Tuesday, December 2, CCJR co-chair Thomas Worthy said there is “concern over not only what we are collecting but how we do it.” The electronic data dictionary and exchange would focus on pre-disposition risk assessment, detention assessment data and overall juvenile case disposition.

“One of the biggest problems we’ve had in general including juvenile courts is data and we have it across the broad spectrum of agencies in the state,” said Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs who co-chairs the Council with Worthy. “We’ve got a lot of duplication of effort, a lot of collection of data that will ultimately drive public policy but only if it is accurate.”

The Council’s 2014 final report due next month will also include recommendations to change how the state handles adult misdemeanor probation. This political hot potato came into focus during 2014 when an internal state audit was highly critical of privately-managed misdemeanor probation practices. This year Governor Deal vetoed a misdemeanor probation reform bill because he felt that it lacked transparency. The state Supreme Court also ruled on a private probation case in November.

The Council’s final report will be submitted to Governor Deal and the Legislature in mid-to-late January. The 2015 General Assembly opens on Monday, January 12, at the State Capitol in Atlanta.

(Mike Klein has held executive leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production.  His justice articles have been republished by the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s “Right on Crime” initiative.  Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What We’ve Got Here is Failure to Communicate”



“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Anyone of a certain generation – yeah, that would be my generation – will recognize that famous line from “Cool Hand Luke,” the 1967 film about southern prison warden Strother Martin and his young prisoner Paul Newman. Eight little words strung together became one of the most famous lines ever spoken in American film history.

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” could also describe the failure by thirteen states to measure juvenile recidivism, including three of Georgia’s southern neighbors.  Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky do not measure and report juvenile recidivism rates. Therefore, they do not have cumulative data about how often juveniles re-appear in the juvenile system or enter the adult corrections system.

Georgia is among those states that have the very best record, according to “Measuring Juvenile Recidivism” published by the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Georgia tracks juveniles at twelve, twenty-four and thirty-six month intervals. Georgia also monitors whether they enter the adult system. Georgia fully reports its results and the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform has given a high profile to measuring adult and juvenile risk assessment and results.

How do other southern states compare? North Carolina and Louisiana track juveniles for thirty-six months, Mississippi tracks only until they turn age 18, and Florida checks their status at six months and twelve months. South Carolina follow-up ends after twelve months and Arkansas tracks juveniles only while they are on parole on under state commitment.

Pew Charitable Trusts LogoThe Pew survey found 33 states report annual, quarterly or monthly data, including Georgia. Five states report data only if there is a special request. Eleven state juvenile justice agencies share information with the executive and legislative branches of state government and just 28, barely more than half of all states, make their information available to the public.

Ten other states that do not measure and report juvenile recidivism are Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Only Virginia and Maine received a positive check in all eleven categories reported by Pew.  Georgia received positive check marks in nine of eleven categories.  Click the link in this paragraph to read the entire table.

Georgia justice reform is all about reducing recidivism. The 2013 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform cited three-year recidivism rates for juveniles released from custody in 2007. The Council said 53 percent of all juveniles and 65 percent of those sentenced to a detention facility were adjudicated for a new juvenile crime or charged with an adult crime within three years. That is far worse than the adult system which has a 33 percent recidivism rate.

Pew worked closely with Georgia on 2011 adult and 2012 juvenile justice reforms that were enacted by the state Legislature. Pew had a smaller role during the past twelve months when the state focused attention on re-entry which is the transition of a released inmate to civilian life.  The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators worked with Pew on the juvenile recidivism report.

Governor Nathan Deal discussed Georgia justice system challenges including recidivism during this recent video address to a Texas Public Policy Foundation Right on Crime conference.

Pew Measuring Juvenile Recidivism Report

2013 Special Council Juvenile Justice Report

2013 Pew Georgia Juvenile Justice Analysis

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

(Published Thursday, June 19, 2014)

"What We've Got Here is Failure to Communicate"

“What We’ve Got Here is Failure to Communicate”



June 19, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feds Approve New Georgia Juvenile Justice Reform Dollars



Federal juvenile justice officials have noticed Georgia’s aggressive reforms and must like what they see because Washington is offering to pony up hundreds of thousands of new dollars to help the state implement ongoing juvenile reforms. On Monday the U.S. Justice Department said it could make up to $600,000 available this year, with similar offers in Hawaii and Kentucky.

The announcement said implementation grant funds would be used “to strengthen diversion and community-based options that will reduce their out-of-home population, avert millions of dollars in otherwise anticipated correctional spending, reduce recidivism and protect public safety. OJJDP applauds the efforts of Hawaii, Kentucky and Georgia and is committed to supporting states that undertake comprehensive juvenile justice reform.”

OJJDP is the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice. Georgia has partnered with technical assistance expert organizations during adult and juvenile justice reforms including the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Vera Institute.  Their role generally is data research and analysis.  Essentially, these organizations help you understand what the facts are, what they mean and the possible options and paths ahead.

Georgia adult and juvenile justice reforms are modeled on incarcerating serious offenders who pose a public safety risk, creating community-based models for offenders who do not pose a safety risk, and, improving mental health and drug abuse services to individuals who need help.

Georgia wants to stabilize existing incarcerated populations, slow or reverse the rate of growth in those populations and, reduce recidivism which is the re-incarceration rate within three years. Georgia adult offenders have a one-in-three incarceration rate, which is considered a failure.

Governor Nathan Deal started the criminal justice reform process in January 2011 with the appointment of a council to study adult corrections. Lawmakers enacted recommendations from the council in 2012, and they passed juvenile reforms in 2013. The implementation of juvenile reforms began in earnest in January this year, so the process remains in its earliest phase.

The Pew Charitable Trusts wrote this analysis about Georgia juvenile reforms last year.

Private nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher learning are eligible to apply. The grant window is tight. Grant applications must be submitted not later than July 16, 2014. Click here to learn more about the grant in this U.S. Department of Justice announcement.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Justice Department Grant Announcement

Georgia Seeks $6.75 Million for Prisoner Re-Entry Implementation

House Bill 1176 – Adult Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

House Bill 242 – Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

(Published Tuesday, June 17, 2014)

June 17, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Should be Obvious: Fix Families First to Fix Kids

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

This idea is almost too obvious:  Fix families and you might alleviate pressure on overburdened state justice systems as there might be fewer folks showing up in juvenile and adult criminal courts.  This week the Campaign for Youth and Justice echoed that idea in a new report that states:

“Given the history of the juvenile justice system, which has historically kept families at arm’s length, coupled with organizational and fiscal challenges facing agencies today, it is not surprising that many justice systems are struggling to meet the needs of families.”

The Family Comes First executive summary further states that despite legitimate efforts to improve outcomes, “what has been missing is a vision of what a transformed justice system looks like when that vision honors and supports families before and after their children have contact with the system.”

Sound familiar?  It should.  Last week Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske told me that dysfunctional families are the primary reason that juveniles enter delinquency and in the worst cases commit crimes of such serious nature that they are charged as adults.

Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske (Photo by Administrative Office of the Courts)

Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske (Photo by Administrative Office of the Courts)

Teske targeted the proliferation of single parent dynamics and parents with weak problem solving skills.   Teske served on the 2012 Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform and he was a leading architect of its juvenile recommendations that were signed into law last week by Governor Nathan Deal.   (Click here to watch Teske on YouTube or click here to read the article.)

The Campaign for Youth and Justice offers several recommendations that you will already find in Georgia juvenile justice reform legislation signed last week by Governor Deal.  For instance one idea in Family Comes First would be, “states should develop fiscal strategies to fund prevention, diversion, and family and community-based programs .”

imgresGeorgia already is moving in that direction as it will make $5 million available in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to assist communities with the expansion and creation of local-based programs.

Another Family Comes First recommendation is the adoption of improved assessment tools, again, an idea advanced for two years by Georgia’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform in adult corrections reforms adopted last year and again this spring in HB 242, the juvenile justice reforms legislation.

The Family Comes First executive summary states, “In the past few years, the juvenile justice field has made major strides in elevating the importance of family involvement to overall system reform efforts. We have come a long way even though we have far to go.”  It says families must have improved access to basic information.

My view: This makes sense as you don’t know what you don’t know until you need to know it.  No doubt, a first encounter with the juvenile justice system can become a dizzying experience.

(Click here to learn more about criminal justice public policy on the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project website.  Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

May 7, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Broken Families … Parents Without Skills … Kids in Juvenile Justice

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

One of the primary architects of the special council recommendations that became the basis for this year’s juvenile justice reform legislation says the primary reason that thousands of juveniles enter the legal system each year is because they come from dysfunctional families.

“Most of the kids we’re seeing today in most courts are kids in which we have broken families, most of them have single parents, most of those are mothers and there are poor or very weak problem solving skills, not just among the young people but also their parents,” Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation this week.

Last year Governor Nathan Deal added Teske to the reconstituted Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform to capitalize on his expertise. On Thursday, Deal said Teske “is regarded by many people as the true expert on juvenile justice matters” when the Governor was in Dalton to sign HB 242, this year’s massive juvenile justice and civil code rewrite legislation.

”We are seeing more and more parents coming into court saying, I cannot handle my child anymore, I want you to take my child, I want you to do something with my child,” Teske said during an interview after the legislation signing ceremony.  “I’ve had some parents … too many parents … demand that I lock their kid up, demand that I commit them to the state.”

Teske has served in the Clayton County juvenile courts since 1999.  He is past president of the Georgia Council of Juvenile Court Judges and a frequent national speaker on this subject. Teske said Clayton County has reduced juvenile detention commitments 43 percent over ten years but more than half who enter juvenile detention are there because of family dysfunction.

“We are having a lot of low risk kids who have very high needs because of family dysfunction going into these (youth detention centers) with razor wire fences,” Teske said.  “They don’t belong here.  We’re making them worse, resulting in a 65 percent recidivism rate when they get out.”  (Click here to watch my interview with Judge Teske on YouTube.)

Governor Deal’s signature Thursday morning on HB 242 continues a sweeping review that has seen the state literally change its adult and juvenile corrections course in two years.  Georgia has traditionally been a hard-on-crime state that emphasized locking people up, mixing hard-core and soft-core inmate populations and giving little thought to successful community re-entry. (Click here to watch the Governor’s remarks on YouTube.)

These criminal justice philosophies were consistent with tough-on-crime standards that became dominant nationally in the 1980’s and 1990’s as politicians responded to what they viewed as the desire of their communities to put criminals away as quickly as possible for as long as possible.  What that trend did not recognize was that mental illness, substance abuse and other factors meant this one-size-fits-all approach really did not fit at all.

Therefore, it was not surprising when refined data analysis began to show that adults released from prisons and youths released from detention were coming back at alarming rates.  Here in Georgia, the rate was one-in-three adults re-incarcerated within three years and the numbers were even worse for juveniles, one-in-two were re-adjudicated of a juvenile offense or charged with an adult crime within three years.

“If you have one-out-of-three adult offenders return to your prison system within three years you can’t say you are keeping society safe nor (can you say) that you are spending and saving the money of the taxpayers,” Deal said on Thursday in Dalton.  The cost to incarcerate one adult inmate is $18,000 per year and much higher in the juvenile sector, about $90,000 per year.

Twenty-eight months after Deal’s inauguration, the state now has in place adult and juvenile justice policies that emphasize incarceration for serious and violent offenders and a range of alternative treatment options for non-violent persons, especially those who have mental illness or substance abuse challenges.  In addition, the state is more focused on veterans’ courts.

Overall, the state predicts adult and juvenile justice reforms will save taxpayers $349 million over five years — $264 million in the adult sector and the remainder in juvenile justice.  Deal also said Thursday that implementing community-based alternative treatment programs will mean the state should not need to build two new juvenile detention centers.

The next fiscal year budget that kicks in on July 1 includes $5 million in state dollars to help communities start voluntary alternative treatment programs for juveniles.  “If we can save money on one end it will allow us to use the money on the front end,” Deal said.  He targeted substance abuse and family counseling programs as priorities.  “We believe by doing that we can save them early in the process and not have them move into the arena as an adult offender.”

Another feature of this year’s Georgia reforms include a relaxation of adult minimum mandatory sentencing in limited circumstances where judges are given sentencing discretion in some very specific cases, or where judge, prosecutors and defense counsel are in agreement.  Deal said it makes sense for the state to avoid imposing “undue and long punishments for folks where the facts certainly don’t justify the mandatory minimum.”

The criminal justice system review that has been underway through the Deal administration will continue long after his tenure as Governor concludes.  HB 349 signed last week by Deal creates a new criminal justice council that will remain in place until June 2023.   The names of its 15 new members have not been announced by the Governor’s Office.

Clayton County’s Judge Teske also told the Public Policy Foundation he thinks the state should examine the data concerning the number of juveniles who are originally charged in adult courts, but whose cases are transferred to juvenile courts for eventual disposition.  “We could save more money and get help to these kids sooner in juvenile court,” Teske said.  “I would like to see us start asking these questions as far as continued reforms.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Second Adult Criminal Justice Reform Bill Becomes Law

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal on Thursday signed an adult criminal justice reform bill that revises minimum mandatory sentencing laws, expands the state’s right to evidence appeals and creates a new criminal justice reform council that will remain on-the-watch until 2023.  In sum, the state will continue to consider criminal justice best practices for another ten years.

The House Bill 349 signing ceremony was held in Marietta where Deal said, “When I first became Governor I was concerned about something that I was told Republicans shouldn’t really be concerned about and that was the fact that we were the tenth largest state in population but that we had the fourth largest prison population.

“We had had a ‘tough on crime’ stance in this state for many years,” the Governor told Kiwanis members, “not that it was inappropriate but in hindsight I felt it was not achieving the results that we wanted.” (Watch Deal’s remarks on YouTube.)

Two years ago Deal and the General Assembly created a Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform that paved the way for last year’s major overhaul of adult criminal justice policies.  The door was opened to alternative courts and other ideas that potentially reduce incarceration for non-violent offenders but enable the state to always securely lock away truly violent offenders.

The legislation that Governor Deal signed Thursday revises mandatory minimum sentencing options for some drug cases when the judge believes circumstances do not warrant imposition of the more severe mandatory minimum sentence.   HB 349 also gives judges leeway to impose a lesser sentence in sexual offense and serious violence cases when prosecutors and defense counsel agree circumstances do not warrant the more severe mandatory minimum sentence.

Governor Nathan Deal signs criminal justice reform  legislation Thursday in Marietta.  (Photo by Alana Joyner, Governor's Office)

Governor Nathan Deal signs criminal justice reform legislation Thursday in Marietta. (Photo by Alana Joyner, Governor’s Office)

House Bill 349 also changes state law that currently requires prosecutors to prove a defendant “knowingly” trafficked drugs of a specific type and weight.  After July 1, the date on which the bill takes effect, police and prosecutors will not be required to prove that a drug trafficking defendant knew the weight of illegal drugs.  This new drug trafficking prosecution law will then become consistent with simple possession drug laws that passed the General Assembly last year.

On the question of evidence appeals, prosecutors will be allowed a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia or the state Supreme Court if a lower court excludes prosecution evidence during pre-trial proceedings.  This section of HB 349 was not included in the December 2012 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations.  Indeed, it was highly emphasized by the state’s district attorneys and it was included after fairly intense back-and-forth negotiations.

“This bill gives us the ability as prosecutors, when we believe the court has incorrectly ruled on an evidentiary issue, to then take that to the appellate court and have it reviewed,” said Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.

Some opponents said in legislative hearings that expanded evidence appeals might delay speedy trials.  “I don’t believe that’s going to be a huge issue,” Spahos said during an interview.  “I don’t believe it’s going to create a large floodgate of appellate cases or interfere with speedy trials.”  (Watch the Spahos interview on YouTube .)

Deal will sign juvenile justice reform legislation next week.  Like its earlier adult justice system cousin, HB 242 emphasizes community-based local alternative resources for juveniles who are not a public safety threat, underscores the intent to incarcerate violent juveniles and it recreates the state’s antiquated juvenile civil code, especially as it pertains to children in need of services, adoption, dependency cases, parental rights and dozens of other juvenile non-criminal issues.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

April 26, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia House Passes Juvenile Justice Bill 173-0

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

The Georgia House voted 173 – 0 Thursday morning to pass juvenile justice and civil code reforms that would dramatically change our response to young people who commit crimes, run away,  violate probation or who are in desperate need of services.  HB 242, the biggest rethink in Georgia juvenile strategies in decades, is a massive 244-page bill that would rewrite juvenile justice and civil code.  Now the bill moves to the Senate.  (Watch the House floor discussion and vote.)

Friday the House is scheduled to vote on HB 349, companion legislation for the adult system that would change the minimum mandatory sentencing laws for drug trafficking and other serious felony crimes.  The bill would also create a new Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform that would conduct biennial adult and juvenile justice system reviews through June 2023.

Georgia’s juvenile code is a patchwork quilt of rules and regulations that all too often find the code at odds with itself and, at least, difficult to interpret.  Two hundred page of HB 242 is the result of several years’ work by advocates and legislators.  It would update code that in some instances dates back to the early 1970’s.

Juvenile justice reforms contained in HB 242 are the result of recommendations of the Governor’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform.  Their recommendations are intended to hold offenders accountable, increase public safety and reduce the cost of the juvenile justice system.

Right now the state spends $300 million per year on the Department of Juvenile Justice, but more than half of juveniles who leave the juvenile justice system are convicted of a new offense within three years.  In addition, nearly one in four youth in an out-of-home facility is adjudicated for low-level offenses, including misdemeanors or status offenses and approximately 40 percent of all juveniles in out-of-home placements are assessed as a low risk to offend.

The juvenile justice system reforms in HB 242 would focus the state’s out-of-home facilities on higher-level offenders and implement reforms focused on reducing the likelihood that juveniles will re-offend.  Governor Nathan Deal has included $5 million in his Fiscal 2014 budget (plus an additional $1 million in federal funding) to expand community-based programs for these lower-risk offenders.

Many of these strategies are adopted from or build on ideas already implemented in states like Ohio, Texas, and Illinois that have proven effective.  These states have lessons for Georgia.

Ohio committed to juvenile reforms in the 1990’s and almost two decades later Ohio has shown there is merit to focusing expensive state resources on the highest risk juveniles and providing community-based services for lower risk offenders.  When Ohio began its reforms 20 years ago, the state’s juvenile custody population had increased 40 percent in the previous 13 years and their facilities were at 180 percent of capacity.

The state’s leaders decided to change course and created RECLAIM Ohio which provided fiscal incentives to build and use community-based options.  Since creating this state / local partnership, the state’s juvenile custody population has dropped from more than 2,600 to about 650, the state has closed four facilities, and the state has reinvested more than $330 million back to communities to create more than 600 local programs.  Most importantly, public safety has improved as the state has found that all but the very high risk offenders have lower recidivism rates in the community-based programs than in the secure facilities.

Illinois began a similar state / local partnership when it created Redeploy Illinois with 15 counties in 2005; four years later it expanded to 28 counties.  “Philosophically, policy wise, system wise, Redeploy Illinois is exactly what we should be doing,” said John Maki, executive director of the Chicago-based John Howard Association that specializes in adult and juvenile justice system reforms.

There is no denying the benefit that participating counties have seen.  Juveniles who were assigned to Redeploy Illinois have had a 17.4 percent re-arrest rate vs. 72 percent for youths sent to state facilities.  Re-incarceration rates are also way down 14.2 vs. 57.2 percent.

“The goal of Redeploy was to be able to let counties craft their own evidence-based program to meet what they think their local needs are.  To me, that is the genius of it,” Maki said.  “I would love to see it expand, particularly in Cook County.”

Before Redeploy Illinois the state detained about 1,400 juveniles per day in secure custody; now it detains about 900.  Two juvenile facilities are scheduled for closures that will save the state about $17 million per year.  “I look at what is going on in our juvenile system as promising,” Maki said.

Texas earned a national reputation for adult criminal justice system reforms that began in 2007.  The state was also aggressive with juvenile reform.  As in Ohio and some Illinois counties, the emphasis is on focusing out-of-home facilities on higher-level offenders and providing more effective, and less expensive, community-based programs for lower-level offenders.

One thing that Texas did was to stop sentencing juveniles convicted of juvenile offenses to state facilities, something Ohio had also done long ago.  In addition, the state created a fiscal incentives system for local probation departments similar to Ohio and Illinois.  The Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform made the same recommendations for Georgia, and they are included in HB 242 and the Governor’s Budget Report.

Texas has seen positive results.  Youths committed to Texas secure facilities declined from 3,000 in 2006 to about 1,000 today.  Texas closed two youth facilities and saved $117 million.  Today the state spends about $85.4 million per year on community programs and $41.7 m illion on juvenile secure detention facilities.

The Texas legislative budget office issued a report this year that analyzed the outcomes for adults and juveniles released from state custody in 2007 or 2008.  Citing positive results, the report said Texas reduced youths in state secure facilities 67 percent since reforms, and juvenile arrests are down 18 percent compared to 13 percent nationally.

“Ohio, Illinois and Texas are showing the rest of the country that states can cut costs, cut crime, and put more youths on the right track to productive, law-abiding lives,” said Jeanette Moll, juvenile justice policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  “It’s time for other states to start getting a better return on their investment in juvenile justice.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

February 28, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment