Georgia, Kentucky Reforms That Use Alternatives to Detention Also Save Money

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WASHINGTON — Sweeping statewide juvenile justice reforms in Georgia and Kentucky are saving millions of dollars while stressing more effective alternatives than detention for low-level offenders, a new report says.

The 11-page report by the National Conference of State Legislatures provides a snapshot of recent reforms, ranging from broad, statewide efforts like those in Georgia and Kentucky to more narrowly focused initiatives.

“Georgia and Kentucky were very dedicated to reform and had a lot of buy-in to really study what the issues were and so they did a ‘deep dive,’” said the report’s author, Anne S. Teigen, NCSL’s program principal for criminal justice.

Using money saved by cutting spending on detaining juveniles for minor crimes, the two states were able to spend more on promising, community-based alternatives, according to the report.

Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice received $300 million in fiscal year 2013. Nearly 60 percent of that went toward out-of-home placements, at an average cost of $90,000 per bed per year, the report said. More than 50 percent of adjudicated youth were again judged delinquent or convicted of a crime within three years of release.

Now, a 2013 Georgia law limits offenses for which youths can be detained, emphasizes early intervention and alternatives to automatic detention, and prohibits detaining status offenders (those who commit nonviolent offenses such as skipping school or alcohol possession) and some who commit misdemeanors.

The Georgia law requires that the costliest resources, including out-of-home facilities, be used only when they’re shown to have the greatest impact on ensuring public safety, while the state relies on cheaper, more effective alternatives for low-level offenses and those less likely to offend again.

The law also requires use of risk assessments before detention of a juvenile and whenever a court is weighing post-adjudication confinement. It creates a two-tier felony system that takes into account an offense’s severity.

The NCSL report, funded by the Baltimore-based, nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation, said the Georgia reforms are expected to save the state nearly $85 million through 2018 and avoid the need to build two more residential juvenile facilities.

In Kentucky, the state legislature enacted a law last year that prevents some low-level offenders from entering the formal juvenile justice system and improves precourt diversion for those with few or no prior offenses who commit status or low-level offenses.

Under the law, before a case goes to a county attorney, a juvenile must be screened using a risk-assessment tool and, when appropriate, referred to services.

The law requires data collection to better study juvenile recidivism, provides more funding for evidence-based practices and creates a juvenile justice oversight counsel position to manage reforms.

The measure passed after a year of study by a task force, which found the state pays $87,000 annually for each bed in residential placements and that the most common offenses for youth placed in them were status offenses and misdemeanors.

The Kentucky reforms are expected to reduce the state Department of Juvenile Justice out-of-home population by more than one-third and save as much as $24 million over five years, the report said. Savings will go toward increased services for juveniles and their families for community-based sanctions and treatment programs proven to reduce recidivism.

The report also briefly sketched promising progress among states in limiting post-adjudication confinement, racial and ethnic disparities and use of solitary confinement.


  • Maryland revised its criminal code in 2013 to bar detention of youth whose most serious offense is drug possession, disorderly conduct, prostitution or theft, except in rare circumstances.
  • A 2013 Illinois law requires collection of racial and ethnic data on each person arrested or committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice at the time of arrest or booking and incarceration.
  • Eight states — Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia — have passed laws or established rules limiting or banning solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.

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