Georgia Juvenile Justice Reform Bill Clears Committee

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A major reformation of Georgia’s juvenile justice system took a significant step toward passage in the state’s General Assembly Tuesday after it was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee.

As JJIE reported earlier this month, the 244-page House Bill 242 grew out of a recommendation report from the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council and a years-long effort to update the state’s juvenile code. Much of the bill is modeled on reforms in other states such as Texas and Ohio.

“The way we’re doing things now is not good for the children, so we’re altering those programs,” the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the committee, state Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday.

The bill includes reforms meant to address high recidivism rates and ease overcrowding in detention centers by placing a greater emphasis on community-based alternatives. The state could see savings of $88 million over the next five years if the bill becomes law.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein spent a good portion of her Feb. 7 State of the Judiciary Address before the General Assembly speaking about the need for juvenile justice reforms. According to Hunstein, some 2,000 Georgia young people are currently housed in a state facility. Of those, about 40 percent are considered low-risk.

“Just as with adults, we want to reserve our youth prison beds for the most serious offenders while providing alternatives for those who are low-risk and non-violent,” Hunstein said.

A previous version of the bill stalled last year in the General Assembly because of complaints that it would be too expensive for some counties. The current bill backs off on some of the more expensive provisions.

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