Georgia juvenile justice reform, led by Gov. Nathan Deal, wins award
A year after taking office, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal recognized that he had an opportunity, and a responsibility, to fix the state’s criminal justice system. A year later, in 2013, he expanded his focus to include the state’s juvenile justice system. Shortly thereafter, the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) partnered with the Pew Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, among others, to explore ways to reduce the unnecessary, ineffective, and expensive overuse of out of home placement of youth who ran into trouble with the law as adolescents.
Much to CJCCs surprise, many of the juveniles placed out of home had committed misdemeanor or status offenses.
In their report to the Governor, the Council recommended that the high-cost facilities be used only for the highest-risk youths who had committed serious crimes and that all efforts be made to improve the availability of high-quality community-based alternatives. The savings from the closure of juvenile facilities would be funneled into community-based programs (and evidence-based programs) proven to reduce recidivism. The CJCC estimated that the approach would lower placements by nearly a third within five years, saving the State nearly $88 million.
More evidence-based programs (EBPs)
Following the recommendations of the CJCC and the Governor, the Georgia legislature passed House Bill 242, which created the Juvenile Justice Incentive Grant Program (JJIGP). JJIGP’s purpose was to increase the use of EBPs to “increase public safety, reduce recidivism and promote positive relationships between youth, their families and their community.”
To that end, the CJCC set up the incentive grant program, targeting 29 juvenile courts in 49 counties with funds to identify, implement, and manage a group of highly-respected EBPs. Many of the counties chose top-tier programs like Multisystemic Therapy (MST) and over half the participating counties also chose to partner with Evidence-Based Associates (EBA) in order to manage and oversee the implementation process. The goal was to reduce placement rates by 15%: over the past three years, placement rates have been reduced by over 50% each year. (Counties that partner with EBA have seen reductions of 65% or more.)
Today, Georgia is seen as a leader in adopting evidence-based justice reforms that led to improved public safety at lower cost. And now, the state has received national recognition for its efforts in the form of a National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) Outstanding Program Award.
On learning of the award, Gov. Deal said, “Georgia has achieved monumental success in juvenile justice reform in recent years and continues to lead the nation with meaningful criminal justice reform. This national honor is a reflection of not only our efforts this far but our unwavering commitment to increasing public safety for our state and our citizens through a more effective justice system.”
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) has 14 teams in Georgia.