Georgia Council Says State Could Save Tens of Millions By Lowering Juvenile Detention Population

The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians recently released a report claiming that the state could save an estimated $88 million by reducing the number of young people held in secure facilities over the next five years. The authors of the report recommend decreasing the state’s total out-of-home adjudicated population by more than a quarter by 2018, stating that the measure would allow “significant opportunities for savings and reallocation of resources.”

The report states that status offenders should not be subjected to either short-term or long-term detention, while young people accused of misdemeanors would be better served by diversions to community-based programs. Combined, status offenders and youth found guilty of misdemeanors represented more than a quarter of Georgia’s juvenile lock-up population in 2011. Currently, almost 30 crimes are considered “designated felonies” in the state of Georgia, including several property offenses, such as smash and grab burglaries. Last year, however, almost two-fifths of the designated felons in the state’s youth developmental campuses (YDC) were assessed as “low-risk,” while approximately 40 percent of young people in Georgia YDCs in 2011 were detained for committing non-violent offenses. The report suggest revising the state’s Designated Felony Act (DFA) to establish a two-class system that “continues to allow for restrictive custody in all designated felony (DF) cases while adjusting the dispositional sanctions to take into account both offense severity and risk level.”

Prior to entering state custody, the council suggests that young people be assessed for their likelihood of committing future crimes and given mental health screenings.

Georgia DJJ Boss: Recent Firings at Troubled YDC are Only the Beginning

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.

In Georgia: New Boss Takes over Department of Juvenile Justice

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.

Departing Georgia Juvenile Boss: Crisis Passed

After serving for nearly one year, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Gale Buckner announces her departure, with a parting message for the agency, “the crisis stage is passed and we’re on to better opportunities.”

In November 2011, the department was beset with security and safety deficiencies, and Gov. Nathan Deal announced the appointment of Buckner, a career law enforcement officer, to the top job. The same day may have been the department’s worst: an inmate was beaten to death in Augusta’s youth detention center. “I will be moving forward with my retirement from the state of Georgia,” she said at an Oct. 3 Board of Juvenile Justice meeting. Her departure is effective Nov.

One Year in, Georgia Juvenile Justice Boss Departs

After one year in the job, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Gale Buckner is retiring. “I am guided to retire from State service after 31-plus years and to begin a career in local government,” Buckner said in a personal letter to department employees on Oct. 2. Her retirement is effective November 1. Buckner, a career law enforcement officer, also told employees that she had already been scheduled to retire in Nov.

Mom, Teen Daughter Claim Guards Complicit in Attack at Georgia Detention Center

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.

UPDATE: Gale Buckner Named New Georgia Juvenile Justice Commissioner

L. Gale Buckner has been named the new commissioner of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Buckner was a long-time agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Current DJJ commissioner Amy Howell will join the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) as General Counsel at the request of Gov. Nathan Deal. In 2010, state and federal officials reached an agreement that places DBHDD’s focus on community-based care following a three-year investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into allegations DBHDD was violating patients’ civil rights.

Stakeholders, Foster Kids Speak Out On Georgia Juvenile Code Rewrite

The stakeholder organizations involved in Georgia’s Juvenile Code Rewrite legislation are still providing input for the sweeping revision of the state’s 40-year-old juvenile law.

Representatives from a diverse array of child welfare organizations shared their respective views on HB 641 at a standing-room only hearing before House Judiciary Committee members Thursday.

Overwhelming support for the effort – now roughly seven years in the making – was repeatedly voiced during the two-hour gathering at the state capitol, along with critical suggestions for improvement. The rewrite has received commitments from Gov. Nathan Deal and Georgia House and Senate leadership to ready the measure for a vote in the 2012 legislative session.

“I think we’re finding out that a lot of people have concerns and they’re coming together to make this a good piece of legislation,” says committee chairman Rep. Wendell Willard (R- Sandy Springs), of the presentations made by organizations such as the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, Court Appointed State Advocate (CASA) and Interfaith Children’s Movement. “It was very encouraging to me. Hopefully by January we will have a bill that is ready to move forward.”