Juvenile Justice Reform Bill aims to keep kids out of jail - WRBL

Juvenile Justice Reform Bill aims to keep kids out of jail

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Georgia's juvenile justice system will be facing major changes with the new bill Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law. Its goal? To keep more kids out of jail and in their own communities.

At the current rate half of juvenile delinquents wind up back in detention centers or prison within three years of being released, but the juvenile justice reform bill is looking to change that.

House Bill 242 is focused on keeping kids engaged in their community. For years the answer to misbehavior has been to throw the youngsters behind bars, but Executive Director of Twin Cedars Youth Services Mike Angstadt believes incarceration is not the answer.

Angstadt says, "When you put a child in secure detention, they lose the influence of the church, they lose the influence of the sports league, they lose the influence of other positive adult role models."

With the help of counselors and advocacy programs local governments will begin implementing alternative consequences to jail. They'll receive funding from the $5 million the state budgeted for county pilot programs.

"I believe there will be a lot of grassroots programs that we hope would be evidence-based that we can use to help Muscogee's youth as opposed to spending $91,000 a year incarcerating," Angstadt says.

Gov. Deal says the state will save nearly $85 million over the next five years with the reform. He notes that 40% of juveniles in detention centers are low-risk offenders.

Under the new law, youth offenders will no longer be labeled as simply "unruly." They will be divided into two classes by their risk to the community.

Angstadt says, "Children that had been formerly unruly, children in need of services that may now get services for the very first time, get the services they need in the community, while protecting the community ensuring that the most serious offenses, Class A youth, are incarcerated."

For the local governments to continue getting funding for the programs next year they must reduce the number of juveniles sent to state facilities by 20%.

The law will also allow children to have their own representative if they disagree with their parent or social worker.

Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.

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