In Georgia: New Boss Takes over Department of Juvenile Justice

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Avery Niles

The third commissioner within a little more than a year holds his first regular Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Board meeting, conducting workaday business on bonds and education, while a recruitment drive starts up.

“I thank the governor [Nathan Deal] and the DJJ Board for their confidence and I will work diligently to maintain their trust,” said Avery Niles upon his swearing-in. “We look forward to making real changes in the lives of our young offenders.” Niles, commissioner since Nov. 2, had been board chair and leaves his job as Hall County Correctional Institution warden to take over DJJ.

Audrey Armistad, associate superintendent of the DJJ school system announced that a pilot education program pushed by Deal will soon start up in south Georgia’s Eastman Regional Youth Detention Center.  That facility holds older youth on long-term sentences, some of whom have already graduated high school or gotten a GED.

“The governor has included us in an initiative he has that is going to work on soft skills and basic job readiness skills for the students that are in our facilities,” said Armistead.

Gov. Deal is a former juvenile court judge and has created a blue-ribbon commission charged with researching and recommending criminal justice reforms for adults as well as youth.

At the meeting, the DJJ board also approved the sale of a $1.6 million bond for facility improvements and renovations.

Nearly half the 15-member board joined only this year, with seven appointments and one re-appointment to five-year terms. Another appointment is due from Deal to fill the seat vacated when Niles was promoted to commissioner.

Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice headquarters

If the high turnover there is planned and regular, the turnover among detention center staff is, by contrast, a problem.

So the department is working on recruitment, as well as retention, said DJJ Director of Communications Jim Shuler.

A new website details all the work available at DJJ, and highlights a pay bonus available to veterans.  The department has also signed onto Deal’s new “Hire a Georgia Veteran” campaign launched last week.

On the retention side, the department recently graduated its first group of officers from the “Sergeant’s Academy.”

It’s a program that offers advanced training in decision-making, leadership, policy and other areas.

“It recharges their batteries,” said Shuler.

Both campaigns and others, started under the roughly year-long leadership of Gale Buckner, a former GBI officer named in response to the safety and security problems that had piled up at some facilities. She was named last year, just as the department was faced with the November beating death of an inmate in the Augusta Youth Detention Center.

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