In the annual State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein said the cost to house a child in a youth prison is $91,000 compared to $19,000 to house an adult.
Of those children in the youth prisons, nearly 65 percent will commit another offense within three years of getting out, she told elected officials gathered in the state House chambers Thursday.
“Spending $91,000 a year to lock up a juvenile and getting 65-percent recidivism in return is not working,” Hunstein said. “We can be smarter with our taxpayer dollars.”
Hunstein recommended establishing community treatment programs for low- risk offenders.
Floyd County Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price agreed more funding is needed for mental health care for children and families. More resources are also needed to care for and treat youthful drug offenders.
A holistic probation program implemented by the Floyd County Juvenile Court has reduced the number of commitments to state custody from 65 in 2010 to just 20 in 2012, Price said.
“Floyd County Juvenile Court actually has anticipated the need for these changes and began approximately two years ago to forge a new direction in juvenile delinquent matters,” Price said.
“We created and implemented a new concept in delinquent probation, trying to identify the underlying cause of the child’s inappropriate behavior and not just to put a band aid on the problem,” he continued. “We now utilize behavioral and mental health testing protocols, family environmental investigations and support from an independent mental health consultant to formulate a success plan to help effect a cure, not just treat the symptom.”
Hunstein said in her speech that Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed allocating $5 million to the top Georgia counties that account for more than half the kids in juvenile detention.
“A concern is that even if you were to evenly allocate the $5 million fund to each of the 159 counties, each county’s allocation would only come to an approximate $31,000,” Price said.
He said he hopes “the new directions that we are implementing locally and the new attitude of state leaders to our Juvenile Justice System will lead to better services for our youth and families, and even more success in juvenile rehabilitation.”