Only On 12: Delegation calls special meeting on Augusta YDC

Gale Buckner
DJJ Commissioner Gale Buckner was called to a special meeting with the Augusta-Richmond County delegation in Atlanta on Tuesday. (WRDW-TV / Jan. 24, 2012)
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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012

ATLANTA -- The Augusta Youth Development Campus was the topic of discussion for lawmakers in Atlanta Tuesday.

The Augusta-Richmond County delegation called a special meeting with the head of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Commissioner Gale Buckner.

During the hour-long meeting, the delegation had pointed questions for Buckner.

She was very candid about what she's found, what her department still needs and how all of this affects Augusta.

The murder of 19-year-old inmate Jade Holder in Augusta last November has impacted campuses across Georgia. That investigation has led to several others that found multiple instances of employee misconduct -- from contraband to alleged sexual relationships with youth.

"The Augusta YDC -- people are concerned about the reputation we have there," said Ga. Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta. "We are looking forward to working with the DJJ to improve."

Buckner said her biggest challenge is to make sure they have "the proper leadership" in Georgia's facilities.

Turnover among officers is also a problem, with a staggering rate of 52 percent.

One likely reason could be salary. An entry-level officer is paid $24,000 a year.

Another issue being addressed is how the department handles a crisis. Two new units of specially-trained officers will soon be at every YDC campus in Georgia. The Department of Corrections is helping with the training.

"She's making steps to fix this," said Ga. Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta. "Obviously, we have a new generation of young kids now that are not like the YDCs of the past."

Buckner says the number of youth offenders the facilities hold has increased by 100 percent. The number of designated felons has also grown.

But the department's budget is shrinking. The next budget proposal will chop 2 percent, if approved. In that budget, there's money allotted to build a new YDC in Atlanta that would likely house the state's repeat troublemakers.

Buckner is standing firm on cutting the fat and is firing any employees found breaking department policy.

"I want anyone who knows anything to come forward," she said. "I'm here."

Overall, the delegation was pleased with where Buckner is taking the department after only being on the job for two months. By spring, Buckner promises a new leader at the Augusta campus will be in place. We can also expect to see some construction projects there as well.

If you'd like to contact Commissioner Buckner, call (404) 508-7200.