Hall County has received a grant from the state toward rehabilitating delinquent youths in their homes and not at a detention center.
“We received our grant award in a letter from the governor in the amount of $200,000, effective Aug. 1. We will begin planning for the implementation of the new services for delinquent youth by Oct. 1,” said Hall County Juvenile Judge Cliff Jolliff, who wrote the grant proposal.
“This will involve providing in-home intensive counseling for youth and their parents to address the problems which contributed to the youth’s delinquent behaviors,” he said.
The aim: to reduce the number of kids in the system, and the costs that come with it.
“The hope is it will drive down costs, because if you lock them up, that’s way expensive,” Jolliff said.
Officials have put the one-year price tag for incarcerating a juvenile at $60,000.
“There’s still a cost — $200,000 — but when the dust settles you have saved money, and you have a better outcome for the child,” Jolliff said.
Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles praised the program and 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.
“It’s part of that ‘win-win-win’ concept for juvenile justice in Georgia,” Niles said. “This is the type of meaningful funding that will help keep our youth out of juvenile custody. Instead it will allow them to remain in their communities where we can provide them with the correct programs for their needs and guide former or potential juvenile offenders to become productive citizens.”
The program will be able to reach dozens of families upon initiation, with enough funding for 41 families and bilingual services, Jolliff said.
The next step in implementing the program rests with the Hall County Board of Commissioners, he said.
“The county commission has to approve the agreement with the agency that’s going to help us find the vendor. The training has to occur to get the selected agency trained, and we’ll start referring kids, so that come Oct. 1, this agency will be ready when we send the referrals,” he said.
The program will be funded Oct. 1 through June 30, a period of nine months.
“Then they’ll take a look at results and the legislature will decide if funding should continue. It’s kind of an experiment, or believe me, that’s what it feels like,” he said.
It may be an “experiment,” but it’s a well-tested one, he stressed.
“These are all evidence-based practices, or strategies that have been tested with a kind of scientific testing of controls and looking at outcomes with data where you can see actually the results,” Jolliff said, citing other programs that have proven to be well-intentioned but ineffective.
The specific type of counseling the county will implement is called Functional Family Therapy, and has been cited as good public policy by many organizations, Jolliff said, including the Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence and Crime Solutions of the United States Department of Justice.
“FFT focuses on treating youth aged 11-18 ranging from at-risk preadolescents to youth with very serious problems such as conduct disorder,” Jolliff said. “Treatment duration is approximately one to three sessions a week for three to four months.”
The treatment is home-based, scheduled at times convenient for families.
“Oftentimes, we do arrange for families to get counseling, but it’s difficult to get to the services held during business hours. We wouldn’t want a parent to have to leave their job; that would be worse. So this allows the treatment to come to the families,” he said.
Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal sits on the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which awarded the grant and will be tasked with regularly evaluating the effectiveness of the programs.
He said statistics show recidivism rates as high as 60 percent for incarcerated youth.
“Some people are a danger to society, and need to be detained, but we want to keep the youth out who are just learning how to be better criminals,” he said.
The juvenile reform has been a part of a larger re-evaluation of criminal justice laws, and Jason Deal said he expects the council and legislature to tackle re-entry into society from imprisonment next.
“My understanding is we’re going to take on re-entry, but we also will be looking at the effect the new reforms have had,” he said.
The council is set to meet Thursday in Atlanta, Jason Deal said.