The reform bill would place a greater emphasis on mental health treatment and drug counseling for low-risk offenders.
House Bill 242 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week and is expected to pass when it is presented to the full House.
Gov. Nathan Deal promised $5 million to create community services — but early indications are that it will go to the 18 most needy counties, said Floyd County Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price.
“That means Floyd County may not be in line to obtain any of such funds, and will have to seek financial assistance from the local government entities or other local
resources, which are more than strapped already, to provide for placement alternatives other than through Department of Juvenile Justice’s placement resources…” Price said.
He emphasized that he is not being negative about the new law, but only wants “to be cautious and protective of the interests of the people of Floyd County and Rome.”
The new juvenile code also establishes a class of “children in need of services,” or CHINS, Price said.
Those are children taken into custody who can’t immediately be returned to their parents and must be placed in a secure or non-secure residential placement.
The law requires a hearing within 24 hours if those children are taken into custody.
“That would mean that if a child were detained on a Friday evening, then the courthouse would have to be opened, including sheriff’s staff to maintain the public entrance and scanning machine, as well as court staff and sheriff’s deputies for the courtroom, to implement the hearing required,” Price said. “This would also mean that if a child were taken into custody on a Saturday, that a Sunday hearing might be required.”
Georgia spends more than $90,000 per year on each youthful offender behind bars. It costs about $30,000 to serve a delinquent at a non-secure residential facility.
About 65 percent who are released end up back in jail, a “totally unacceptable” rate according to the bill’s sponsor, state House Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs.