State action on juvenile justice reform has sparked a Hall County request for a grant to create and implement programs that will help divert troubled youth away from detention.
The county applied in June for a grant from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, called the 2013 Juvenile Justice Incentive Reform Program. The grant has a potential award of $500,000.
Judge Cliff Jolliff, juvenile court judge for the judicial circuit of Hall and Dawson County, explained the purpose of the grant.
“The new programs are geared to reduce our use of secure detention for repeat offenders,” he said.
Looking at statistics, he said, certain offenses have led to highest incarceration rates for youth.
“We reviewed our detention statistics for 2012 and found that violation of probation and burglary charges are the most common offenses for which we detain teenagers,” he said.
During the 2013 legislative session, Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly appropriated $5 million to the council to create effective community programs for youth now being sent to juvenile detention or another short-term program as a sanction.
Advocates have long said the 40-year-old-plus juvenile code needed a modernizing overhaul. Last year, a bill with similar goals stalled after there were concerns about who would bear some of the costs in transitioning to a system with a strong emphasis on community-based programs.
The grant money aims to help local jurisdictions bear the cost.
The purpose of the reforms is to create programs that will save the state money in the long run by both reducing incarceration — at $90,000 per juvenile inmate — along with crime rates and their cost to society.
Jolliff is confident, based on the research, that the programs can accomplish that.
“These programs are evidence-based programs which will enhance the services we provide to our kids locally,” he said. “We already use one of the programs through Avita Community Partners. They use it to treat useful substance abusers. The other two programs would be a new approach involve family counseling as well as addressing anger and violence.”
Avita is a state agency located in Flowery Branch that serves area residents who suffer from mental illness, developmental disabilities or addictive diseases.
Another goal of the programs, Jolliff said, is to impact juveniles in traditionally harder-to-reach communities.
“It boils down to our attempt to provide family counseling to families which have been most hard to reach,” he said. “This involves Hispanic families as well as other families of teenagers who for various reasons cannot come to a central location to receive counseling at an office.”
Judge Carden to retire
Jolliff said fellow circuit Juvenile Court Judge Mary Carden will retire in December, Jolliff said. The county has posed notice for persons interested in the juvenile court judge position to apply by the Aug. 15 deadline. Judges in Hall’s Superior Court will appoint the four-year position.