California is embarking on an ambitious and deep-rooted reform of its corrections system, an effort that has come to be know as realignment. Gov. Jerry Brown’s main aims in this undertaking is to reduce dramatically high costs, as well as overcrowding and recidivism rates by transferring non-serious adult offenders and parolees from the state to the counties. But concurrent to this effort, many reform-minded criminal justice advocates also propose a full devolution of the state juvenile system to local counties. Full juvenile realignment is a historic opportunity to end a failed system, while addressing county-level discrepancies in sentencing and services. California’s 58 counties already manage much of the juvenile system, including total responsibility for supervising probation.
Golfers love being on the leader board. Corrections officials, not so much as there is nothing to celebrate about Georgia being the national leader with the highest percentage of its adults under corrections system supervision. The ratio is 1-in-13 and it is the worst in the country.
Not only does it cost lots of money -– more than $1 billion per year in state dollars to run prisons -– but lofty incarceration, probation and parole statistics send the wrong message nationally and internationally when Georgia tries to market itself as a leading edge economy and destination.
Over the next several months you will hear extensive discussion about adult corrections system reform. A commission created by the 2011 General Assembly was told to develop proposals to streamline Georgia corrections without an adverse impact on public safety. The report is due to Gov. Nathan Deal in seven weeks, with legislation possible next year.
Not much of the process is being conducted in public -– there have been just three public meetings -– and the process does not include a juvenile justice system review. That is an unfortunate and perhaps costly oversight. Doesn’t it make sense that a high percentage of adults who commit felonies and fill our prisons began their criminal careers as troubled youths?
“It seems to me that if we were to concentrate a lot of our efforts more in the juvenile justice arena then we might have greater success later in terms of reducing the crime rate,” said Judge Cynthia Wright, chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court. Wright appeared on a public safety panel hosted by Women in Leadership last week at The Commerce Club in Atlanta.
Using evidence-based practices in the juvenile justice system reduces delinquency and avoids costs. Those of us in the field hear this regularly – but it can be hard to see their impact on a day-to-day basis. How do we know they work? Let’s start at the beginning. What we commonly refer to as “evidence-based practices” in the juvenile justice field are based on over 40 years of research regarding what works to reduce juvenile crime.
The Georgia Commission on Family Violence has bounced among state agencies for the last 18 years – from Human Resources to the Administrative Office of the Courts to Corrections and back to the Courts. Now there are new questions about its future.
In the most recent change, the General Assembly voted late in the 2010 session to move the agency’s $428,000 budget from the Department of Corrections in the executive branch to the Administrative Office of the Courts in the judicial branch—but failed to amend the law to actually move the agency because time ran out. Corrections transferred management to the Courts by agreement. Now there’s discussion about moving the Commission again, this time to the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, an agency created by outgoing Governor Sonny Perdue two years ago. Supporters say services should be combined under one umbrella.