At Wednesday’s annual State of the Judiciary Address, Georgia’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein urged lawmakers to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system, asking legislators to support more rehabilitative services for youth as opposed to incarceration of juvenile offenders.
“The same reforms we are recommending to you for adults must begin with children,” Hunstein said. “If we simply throw low-risk offenders into prison, rather than holding them accountable for their wrongdoing while addressing the source of their criminal behavior, they merely become hardened criminals who are more likely to reoffend when they are released.”
Hunstein noted that state budget cutbacks have limited services for many mental health and child welfare programs, which she said puts juvenile judges in a position to send youth to detention facilities “or nothing at all.”
She cited Department of Juvenile Justice statistics showing that nearly two-thirds of the approximate 10,000 incarcerated youth in the state suffer from substance abuse issues, while approximately one-third had been diagnosed with mental health complications.
The Chief Justice warned legislators that statewide budget cuts have created massive backlogs of court cases in many of Georgia’s counties, which threatens to impede the progress of court resources across the state.
Hunstein said she supported proposals from Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to create specialized courts to treat adults with substance abuse issues, as well as military veterans, stating that the system needs to examine the “roots” of offender behavior.
“As with adults, we have learned that our get-tough tactics have failed to scare juvenile offenders straight,” Hunstein said.