It’s been 2½ years since Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a landmark overhaul of Georgia’s juvenile justice system into law. The measure has resulted in a sharp drop in commitments to the state’s youth correctional system and is expected to save tens of millions of dollars by replacing incarceration with community supervision.
UPDATE: The Henry & Rilla White Foundation, Inc. released a response to these reports, which can be found here: Letter to The Reader Forum – Miami Herald. With more than $1.2 million in annual benefits and salary – a majority of which stems from state tax payers – Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice says it’s time to decrease the pay of William Schossler, president of Tallahassee’s The Henry & Rilla White Youth Foundation. Schossler, 65, heads a nonprofit that currently holds 23 statewide juvenile justice contracts in Florida, with the foundation managing numerous residential treatment beds and funding programs that grants adolescents access to therapy and counseling after leaving state care. In total, the Henry & Rilla White Youth Foundation’s juvenile justice contracts with Florida are tallied at an estimated $10.2 million in value. The state DJJ, however, believes that Schossler’s pay – which in 2010, consisted of almost $400,000 in salary and more than $800,000 in additional compensations – is excessive, with Florida juvenile justice chief Wansley Walters stating that the funding should go towards youth services instead.
Two employees were ousted last week at Georgia’s troubled Augusta Youth Development Campus (YDC), and the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner, Avery D. Niles, promised executive-level dismissals would follow. “There have been many personnel changes at Augusta YDC over the previous year and I can promise you, I’ll be making more,” Niles said in a DJJ press release. In 2011, the YDC gained national prominence after a youth in custody, 19-year-old Jade Holder, died following a fight with another inmate. It was the first ever homicide inside a Georgia YDC, according to a state DJJ spokesperson. A subsequent investigation of the death found that the detention facility’s cell doors were not locked at the time of the fight, Augusta’s News Channel 6 reported.
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.
Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Gale Buckner confirmed the Board’s election of Avery Niles to head the state’s DJJ Board. Niles fills the Chairman post formerly held by long-time Board member Ed Risler, who stepped down earlier this week following the expiration of his term last summer. Niles, a 23-year veteran of the Hall County Sheriff’s Department and current warden of the Hall County Correctional Institution, was appointed to the Board by Gov. Deal in July 2011. As Chairman, Niles will “help guide Board Members as they serve in their advisory capacity to DJJ, providing leadership and counsel to the Commissioner to help improve Georgia’s juvenile justice system,” according to a DJJ release. “I am honored to serve in this capacity,” Niles said.
UPDATE: Commissioner Announces New Chairman to Head Georgia’s DJJ Board
At the request of the Governor’s Office, long-time Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Board Chairman Ed Risler has stepped down after more than 10 years of service on the Board. In an e-mail sent Monday to Board members and top officials at the DJJ, Risler said it was “a personal honor and privilege” to have served on the Board and commended the state’s DJJ employees for their “dedication and service.”
Risler’s departure comes after the expiration of his term in summer of 2011. During his tenure, Risler worked with five separate DJJ Commissioners. The 15-member DJJ board is made up of representatives from Congressional districts around the state. Risler’s Board seat representing the 10th Congressional district will be filled by Willie Bolton, current Warden for Athens-Clarke County.
A former Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) corrections officer was arrested Wednesday for alleged sex crimes that occurred while she was a staff member at the Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC) in Gainesville. Ardith Brown faces charges of felony child molestation and sexual assault against persons in custody. Brown was removed from duty at the RYDC and suspended in January after other corrections officers alerted a DJJ Safety and Security Team to evidence of officer misconduct during an unannounced inspection. She was terminated February 2 following a DJJ internal investigation into allegations Brown had an inappropriate relationship with a 14-year-old RYDC resident in DJJ custody. The Gainesville RYDC was the first DJJ secure facility to receive a surprise facility inspection after Commissioner L. Gale Buckner began a system-wide security sweep crackdown following a homicide at the Augusta YDC campus last November.
A new issue analysis by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation takes a close look at the state’s juvenile justice system and indentifies five essential principles for policy-makers to “increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the system.”
The report, written by Jeanette Moll and Kelly McCutchen, says 50,000 youths are in Georgia’s juvenile justice system every year, either awaiting adjudication or serving their sentences. Those youth, the authors write, “represent the future workforce and citizens of Georgia.”
The five essential principles focus simultaneously on rehabilitation and cost cutting, including placing low-level offenders into the least restrictive placements such as non-secure facilities and home-based community programming that is between 35 and 70 percent less expensive than secure detention. According to the report, these options also keep low-level offenders away from youth who pose a real danger to society. The report also calls for a comprehensive analysis of each youth in the system as well as systematic responses that focus on the offender’s family. Another cost-cutting measure that the report says may deter future crime is to avoid formal processing for first-time and low-level offenders.
Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Gale Buckner appointed a new director this week to lead the troubled Augusta Youth Development Campus (YDC). Ronald Brawner will take over from Interim Director Gary Jones, who is returning to his post as Sardis Police Chief, according to WJBF in Augusta. In November, DJJ and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began a joint investigation at the facility after the beating death of an inmate. Another inmate was later charged with murder in connection with the death. The investigation led to the firing of almost 20 YDC personnel amid charges of sexual abuse and inmate possession of contraband.
Haley Bonds says she did everything she could think of to protect her 16-year-old daughter from the beatdown she was expecting at a youth jail in Northwest Georgia. Yet, just 20 minutes after a supervisor assured her Whitney Bonds would be safe, another called Haley to say her daughter was “bleeding out” and being rushed to the emergency room. At the hospital, Haley said, doctors told her Whitney’s nose had been “crushed” and she would need corrective surgery and dental work. Whitney had just told a supervisor that two guards had bribed her and another girl to attack a third girl the night before, according to a written record of the complaint obtained by JJIE. The guards, she charged, threatened to “put out a hit on her” if she told anyone about it.