New bill seeks alternative programs for juveniles instead of jail, saves taxpayer dollars

It costs more than $91,000 a year to keep a child in confinement. That's almost four times more expensive that what it costs to house an adult. (WRDW-TV)

It costs more than $91,000 a year to keep a child in confinement. That's almost four times more expensive that what it costs to house an adult. (WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, March 28, 2013

EVANS, Ga. (WRDW) -- A new bill is helping save children a trip to jail and taxpayers a trip to the checkbook.

After four years of tweaking and rewriting, both the Georgia House and Senate have approved a new juvenile justice code.

"What can we do to change the child's behavior so we don't have repeated behavior? Confinement is not the answer for every case we get," said Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan.

Instead, he says a new bill could be the answer.

If Gov. Nathan Deal signs it, judges will have the option to sentence non-violent juvenile offenders to a variety of community intervention programs instead of jail.

"I'm excited to see from a taxpayer standpoint. I think it'll save the tax payers some money, but I'm also thinking we're going to get better results," Flanagan said.

"Most of these guys I've worked with, they can't even count on their hands and toes how many times they've been locked up," said Director of Full Circle Refuge Devon Harris.

Full Circle is a juvenile justice ministry. Harris works with juvenile offenders every day. He says with our current system, once the kids get out, it's just a matter of time before they commit another crime and land back in.

"It was just a hotel, and we'll just turn the lights on, you'll come back. We'll wait for you again. This is a repeat process," he said.

It costs more than $91,000 a year to keep a child in confinement. That's almost four times more expensive that what it costs to house an adult.

The community programs give juvenile offenders another option, freeing up costly beds and helping rehabilitate the kids so they won't re-offend.

With a history of problems at our own youth detention center, Flanagan says this bill could help improve conditions there and even help keep some kids from going there at all.

"If we're looking out for children at earlier stages, that's less children we're going to have that are going into the adult system or cause additional problems down the road," he said.

Alternative programs would include classes like anger management, family counseling, mental health help and parenting skills. With this bill, the state stands to save $88 million over next five years because 640 fewer teenagers will be in a secure facility.


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