Cuts to Juvenile Justice System in Georgia Won’t Compromise Safety, Says Commissioner

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Georgia's juvenile justice system is eliminating jobs just as many other state agencies are, but Commissioner Gale Buckner of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) promised Wednesday that none of the cuts will compromise the safety of youthful offenders.

Directed by Gov. Nathan Deal to cut spending on current programs by 2 percent, the DJJ submitted a proposed 2013 budget that trims clerical and administrative positions, four teachers and two dozen staffers in a program offering intensive community-based programs supervision.

But, Buckner told state House and Senate budgetwriters Wednesday, "no position that is safety- or security-related will be cut." Buckner was responding to the concerns of state Rep. Quincy Murphy of Augusta, where a 19-year-old was fatally beaten two months ago in his cell at a youth development campus. A 17-year-old resident of the facility was charged with murder in the incident.

Buckner cautioned, however, that low pay and other factors contribute to a continuing struggle to keep enough juvenile correctional officers on the job. Their entry salary is $24,000 a year, she noted, "so we have problems filling those positions but also keeping those positions [filled]."

DJJ had a 54 percent turnover among correctional officers last year, compared to 41 percent the previous year, officials say.

Overall, Deal is proposing a 5 percent hike in DJJ's funding for 2013, including $1 million to organize two SWAT teams and nearly $8 million to open an 80-bed youth prison in south Fulton County.

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