Thursday evening, the representatives in Georgia unanimously approved House Bill (HB) 242, which seeks to rewrite and streamline the state’s juvenile code.
HB 242 would prohibit the jailing of juveniles for status offenses, as well as separate designated felonies into two classes of offense, depending on the severity of the crime.
The bill incorporates recommendations from a 2012 Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council report, urging state policymakers to keep low-risk juvenile offenders out of state facilities.
A major component of the proposed legislation involves more funding for community-based programs. Gov. Nathan Deal has already offered $5 million to court-developed programs intended to steer young people away from detention facilities.
Some state representatives said that diverting young people from detention could save Georgia as much as $85 million over the next five years. According to Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), the state currently spends an estimated $90,000 annually per locked up juvenile.
Rep. Willard, who has led a three-year long charge to rewrite the state’s juvenile code, also said that HB 242 would introduce several policy changes for the state.
The bill also incorporates the legal term “children in need of services” (CHINS) into state code, which refers to young people that may be at-risk despite not having been found delinquent for offenses; young people with records of truancy and running away from home, for example, may be eligible for new preventative programs under the legislation.
The bill now awaits state Senate approval; if passed, Gov. Deal is expected to sign HB 242 into law.