Georgia state Senate budget writers signed off Tuesday on $3.35 million in immediate funding to open and staff a youth prison in south Fulton County.
The new 80-bed Atlanta Youth Development Campus, the first in North Georgia, could open as soon as April, helping to ease pressures at the state's six other prisons for juveniles. Several of those facilities saw violent disturbances in 2011, culminating in November in the beating death of a 19-year-old in his cell at the Augusta YDC.
Plans call for housing youths from metro Atlanta in the new YDC, DJJ spokesman Jim Shuler said. The department is not currently considering Juvenile Justice Commissioner Gale Buckner's suggestion, reported last month, to transfer the instigators of disturbances at the other facilities to the Atlanta YDC, he said. Officials had said those youths might function better and cause fewer problems on the smaller campus, which was been refurbished since it was last used as a halfway house for adult prisoners.
Buckner has attributed unrest in the YDCs to an influx of older, more violent prisoners who have entered the juvenile justice system in soaring numbers in recent years. The number of these designated felons has more than doubled since 2000, and they now account for more than 95 percent of the YDCs' bed space.
The influx of these more violent youth also threatens to destabilize the state's 20 regional youth detention centers (RYDCs), where the number of designated felons has tripled just since 2009, officials say. RYDCs house younger teens, generally being held for less serious offenses, while they await disposition of their cases in juvenile court.
DJJ had planned to open the Atlanta YDC in the fiscal year starting in July, but Gov. Nathan Deal suggested moving up the launch date and recommended funding in the supplemental budget for FY2012.
The DJJ appropriation has already passed the House but still must be approved by the full Senate.