As the first deadline rapidly approaches, Hall County is gearing up for sweeping juvenile justice reforms that take effect Jan. 1.
Hall County Juvenile Judge Cliff Jolliff wrote a grant proposal for a counseling program that, after getting funding in July, and months of preparation, will start taking referrals on Tuesday.
“We are partnering with one of our local counseling agencies, Family TIES,” Jolliff said.
The county received a $200,000 grant from the state to implement the program, which will rehabilitate delinquent youths in their homes, rather than a detention center.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners gave its approval to use Family TIES.
Under the grant’s directive, the agency will implement Functional Family Therapy, Jolliff said.
“They are providing the evidence-based counseling in-home service in collaboration with a group called Evidence-Based Associates,” Jolliff said. “That group helped implement similar reforms in Florida.”
The program uses a model rooted in measured, methodical practices, and similarly the courts have a goal they hope to achieve.
“Our target is to reduce felony-grade delinquent detention sentences and felony-grade commitments to (the Department of Juvenile Justice) by 15 percent,” Jolliff said.
DJJ Commissioner Avery Niles has praised the program for its role in statewide juvenile justice reform, prompted and funded by a legislative overhaul of the juvenile code, signed in May by Gov. Nathan Deal.
The aim of reforms is to reduce the number of kids in the system, and the costs that come with it.
Officials have put the one-year price tag for incarcerating a juvenile at $60,000, and to little benefit — officials cite statistics of recidivism rates as high as 60 percent for incarcerated youth.
“These in-home services are targeting teens — mostly boys — who have committed multiple delinquent offenses and who would otherwise be eligible to receive detention as a sentence or commitment to DJJ for a felony-type offense,” Jolliff said.
The treatment is home-based, for participants’ convenience, and should be able to reach dozens of families, Jolliff said, with enough funding for 41 families and bilingual services.
The program will be funded for a nine-month period through June 30, when the state legislature will evaluate results and decide if funding should continue.
And big changes are still to come in January.
“There are major changes,” Jolliff said. “Detention will be limited for juveniles who commit what would be crimes if they were adults; detention will be virtually eliminated for youths who are truants, runaways or ungovernable.”
In addition to the new partnership with Family TIES, collaboration with other state agencies will help identify the resources to meet the reform needs head on.
“The new law focuses more on treatment, rehabilitation and supervision in the community with referral to state and local agencies,” Jolliff said. “Our judges and staff have received and will continue to receive specialized training in advance of Jan. 1.”