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First Year of Reform Leads to Impressive Improvements for Georgia's Juvenile Justice System

Reform efforts in the Peach State lead to an immediate 62 percent reduction in juvenile commitments in the first nine months. Evidence-Based Associates (EBA) applauds Georgia's leadership in reducing secure placements of youth following statewide implementation of evidence-based programs

(Business Wire According to a comprehensive summary released in late February,"Report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform 2015," the state of Georgia saw dramatic declines in out-of-home placements of juvenile offenders during the first nine months of a statewide initiative led by Governor Nathan Deal. According the report, “Among the counties participating in phase one...felony commitments and placements in short-term programs dropped more than 62 percent statewide over a nine-month period ending in October 2014 – dramatically exceeding the 15 percent goal set when the grants were awarded."

EBA has been a committed partner in the Governor’s initiative since the passage of HB 242 in 2013, which called for a new juvenile justice mandate, "to preserve and strengthen family relationships in order to allow each child to live in safety and security."

"Governor Nathan Deal and a bi-partisan, unanimous legislature launched a statewide juvenile justice reform effort in 2013, leading to a staggering overall 62 percent reduction in secure placement of high-risk offenders in less than one year," said Clay Yeager, senior consultant for EBA. "Georgia officials are to be applauded for their foresight in meeting a problem head-on by using data analysis and supporting only those programs meeting the highest standards of evidence. Georgia’s leadership is an example for other jurisdictions nationwide."

In 2013, the Reform Council had produced a set of policy recommendations aimed at limiting expensive out-of-home facilities to serious, higher-risk youth and managing youth with more minor offenses through evidence-based supervision and programs. In that earlier report, the Council outlined a juvenile justice system that featured high costs and relatively poor results, heavily reliant on out-of-home facilities and lacking in community-based alternatives in many areas. Georgia’s secure residential facilities for juveniles averaged $90,000 per youth per year, and nearly 25 percent of the juveniles in out-of-home placements were adjudicated for low-level offenses, including misdemeanors or status offenses. For youth released from Georgia’s secure commitments, the recidivism rate was a disturbing 65 percent.

In 2013, the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) and the Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOCF) made $7 million in resources available for selected counties to implement a menu of evidence-based interventions that met high standards of scientific testing. During the first year, the 20 Georgia counties with the highest number of commitments were awarded funds to implement high-quality, well-designed evidence-based programs. Using 2012 data as the baseline, a first year reduction target of 15 percent was established. Surprisingly, the participating counties attained an overall reduction of 62 percent during the first nine months.

EBA, a national technical assistance and project management team based in Washington, DC, partners with state and local agencies to identify and implement evidence-based programs for at-risk youth. EBA managed the implementation of programs in 10 of the grant-funded counties during the first year of the Georgia initiative. All counties working with EBA saw declines in placement rates; overall, commitments in EBA counties declined a dramatic 65.3 percent during the initial nine-month grant period, while the remaining counties achieved a notable 51 percent reduction.