“Why are they there? They are there because there are not programs currently in the community that judges can send them to,”
-Rep. Wendell Willard, speaking about the incarceration of juveniles for misdemeanor offenses or truancy charge (as reported in the Marietta Daily Journal).
It looks like that is about to change. In a show of bipartisan collaboration that is long overdue Georgia conservatives and their liberal counterparts have joined forces to fix their state’s juvenile justice system. A system that has done nothing but get consistently worse over the past two decades.
Melissa Carter at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange writes:
Georgia leaders were recently confronted by compelling data showing that the state is expending considerable resources confining offenders who are mostly at low-risk to re-offend, and further, that these expensive and restrictive interventions are not effective. More than half of all Georgia young people in the juvenile justice system recidivate; that is, they are re-adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a criminal offense within three years of their release. This narrative is not unique to Georgia, and states recognize the need to be more effective and more efficient with their limited resources. A broader set of goals must be satisfied, including those promoting public safety, accountability, fiscal responsibility and positive outcomes for young people. Thus, now is the ideal time to correct the public policy course of the last two decades by making smart investments in our youth.
Georgia’s governor recognized this opportunity and has made juvenile justice reform a signature issue. The state is poised to enact a comprehensive statutory reform package (the state House passed the legislation last week) that includes proposals to treat status offenders through a more service-oriented Children in Need of Services (CHINS) approach, separate felonies into two classes based on the severity of the offense to allow for differentiated sentencing, mandate use of standardized assessment tools, and require improved data collection. The bill also contains a fiscal incentive program to create community-based alternatives to detention.
Programs like these are already showing results- improving outcomes for youth and their families, increasing public safety and reducing costs in five states. Seeing them implemented in a state notorious for its juvenile justice concerns is heartening. Even more important is the continuing trend of bipartisan agreement.
It is no secret that these are insanely polarized times, politically speaking. As a result collaborations across the aisle have become almost mythical. Just look at the “fiscal cliff” and the current brouhaha about sequestration. Yet on this issue there is no choice but bipartisan agreement, the numbers are that cut and dried. There are even precedents for it, as I noted here on this blog back in February of 2012 when I wrote about bipartisan progress being made in aphid and Michegan:
The idea of justice reform is often viewed as a province of the liberal left, however the current reality is that more and more conservatives are embracing it now that they are becoming aware of the harsh financial realities. Let us hope this trend continues.
We have the proof. Numerous studies over the past few decades show quite plainly that more community based approaches and rehabilitative programs are more effective at getting people out of the system, which thrills liberals. These same studies also demonstrate a much lower outlay of funds with a greatly increased return on investment, the goal of all true fiscal conservatives.
Let us hope that the common sense prevailing in Georgia leads even more states to do so. It is, after all, far more expensive to do nothing.