New law keeps some juveniles out of detention centers - WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

New law keeps some juveniles out of detention centers

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COLUMBUS, GA - Changes in Georgia’s Juvenile justice laws could save taxpayers money in the new year.

Currently, it costs $90,000 a year per child who is placed in a juvenile detention center. With this new program, kids who commit non-violent crimes may not have to go there, but instead serve their sentence at home, saving tax payers millions.

“The therapist go out into the community into the home and work with the youth,” said Warner Kennon, the Presiding Juvenile Court Judge of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.  “And with the parents and with the siblings and with the family members to try and keep that youth out of detention and address whatever problems are causing the youth to be, getting in trouble.”

The law passed unanimously in the state house and senate in 2013. Governor Nathan Deal supplemented the law with a $400,000 grant to help get the new program going. The Department of Juvenile Justice said that 65% of children released from detention centers commit another crime within three years. They think the new program can get that number down to 15%.

“If they complete the program,” said Judge Kennon. “Then naturally they would never serve the 30 days. If they do not complete the program or their probation is otherwise unsatisfactory, then they would come back, we would have a hearing. We might have the suspension lifted and serve the thirty days, but we try everything we can to keep that from happening.”

Officials say the program will save taxpayers millions of dollars.  But Judge Kennon says it's not just about cutting costs.

“$90,000 per child is a lot of money,” said Judge Kennon. “But again, most importantly, I think if we can think of ways to help the families that are going through various things, and these children that are committing crimes to change the way they live and the way they engage society, the children that is, and hopefully help the family encourage that as well, then I think we are ahead of the game.”

Judge Kennon also said that the goal for the first 12 months of the program is to keep 83 kids out of the detention center.

Officials say that the new law will also help solve the problem of overcrowding in youth detention centers across the state.

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