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DJJ Announces Second Youth Detention Center Closing

The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) announced the closing of the second regional youth detention center (RYDC) in as many days.  The 30-bed Blakely RYDC in Early County will close effective April 1.  The decision to close the facilities came after the DJJ budget was cut by $5.4 million.

DJJ Commissioner Amy Howell said the Griffin and Blakely RYDCs were chosen because of their proximity to other facilities and not performance.

“The decision was more based on data and not operations,” said Howell.  “The work at both of these facilities was outstanding.”

Last year, the DJJ said up to four facilities, Griffin, Blakely, Claxton and Gwinnett, could be closed.

"I'm am totally flabbergasted by this news," said Captain Phillip Law of the Early County Sheriff's Department when reached at his office in Blakely. "We thought we had enough political pull to keep it open, but I guess we were wrong."

Youth at both the Griffin and Blakely RYDCs will be transferred to nearby detention centers so that they may remain close to their families.

But Law explained that closing the facility in Blakely will make the job of Sheriff's deputies much more difficult as they have to transport juveniles in Early County to court once a month. Deputies, he said, used to have to go across town to pick up youth at the detention center, now because of the closing, "we have to go half way across the state to pick them up. No, we are not the least bit happy about this."

The nearest facility to the Blakely RYDC is in Albany, Ga., approximately 50 miles away.

Law added that closing the facility would also have an adverse economic impact to the local community.

"This is going to have a big impact on everyone, law enforcement, the kids, their families and the community. This is just bad news," he said.

A DJJ press release said that employees at the closing RYDCs would be allowed transfers to other DJJ facilities and would not lose their jobs.

House Budget Cuts Juvenile Justice Funding But Doesn’t Say Where

The U.S. House funding bill passed Friday would cut juvenile justice programs by $191 million. Some $91 million of that is in earmarked programs, but it doesn’t tell the Office of Justice Programs where to trim the remaining $100 million.

"It’s weird that they left that out,” said Joe Vignati, the National Juvenile Justice Specialist on the Executive Board of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. “If—and this is a big if — this becomes law, everybody will be clamoring and saying, ‘Cut this! Cut this!’”

HR 1, the Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act, now moves to the Senate where the bill is expected to change significantly. If an agreement is not reached on the budget by March 4, the nation could face a government shutdown.

Why Juvenile Justice Could be Big Loser In Obama Budget

The Obama administration is proposing deep cuts in juvenile justice programs while boosting funding for policing and prisons, according to the D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute.

These priorities, says the Institute (JPI), go counter to Obama administration public statements urging a reduction in the historically high prison population of some 2.4 million. Additionally, says the JPI, the FY 2012 Budget proposes to spend money on failed polices and has missed an opportunity to fund “smarter investments in proven programs.”

[Click here to look through the proposed FY 2012 Budget]

An Institute factsheet reports the budget would slash some $50 million from juvenile programs, including prevention. These programs are designed to help many of the nearly 100,000 kids currently in detention and correctional facilities across the nation.

At the same time, the budget proposes an increase of $116 million from FY 2010 for facilities. This suggests the administration is making way for more prison construction.

Tracy Velazquez, the executive director of JPI, said expenditures such as this are counter-productive, not reflective of proven public safety and crime prevention strategies and have long been rejected by researchers in the field.

"This budget reflects a disappointing continuation of policies rejected by researchers and advocates and will serve to widen the net of justice involvement, doing little to improve public safety," said Velázquez. "While states are seeking innovative ways to cut costs, reduce prison populations and improve the safety and health of communities, the Federal Government is showing a disappointing lack in leadership in the areas of prevention, treatment and diversion.”

Doing More with Less: What DJJ Budget Cuts Really Mean for Children

As Georgia faces its greatest budget crisis since the Great Depression, the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has been forced to make drastic budget cuts.  The last three years have seen a reduction of more than 20% in state funding.  And future cuts of up to 10% for FY 2012 are possible.

Jeff Minor, long time DJJ Chief Financial Officer, explains these losses in stark terms:

  • In FY 2009, DJJ’s base budget totaled nearly $343 million.  By 2011, the budget was down to $266 million.
  • The FY 2012 budget faces further cuts, from $15.4 million in a best case scenario to $25.7 million in a worst case scenario.
  • Over a three year period, the cuts could total nearly 30%.

In addition, says Minor, the agency lost more than $80 million in one-time budget cuts, largely absorbed through staff furloughs and hiring freezes.

Minor reports that these reductions are unprecedented during his thirty years in state government.  He says, “They have touched every aspect of our business and our service delivery system.”

These cuts represent more than numbers:  They have led to a dramatic loss in services and programs.

In the last two years, DJJ reduced field and administrative staff, and cut back community residential services by eliminating or reducing contracts with non-profit community providers. DJJ also lost a significant number of beds for children in secure facilities. The length of stay in DJJ Short Term Programs (STPs) has been slashed from 90 to 30 days. The Milledgeville Youth Development Center, the state’s largest YDC, closed altogether in 2010.

These losses, particularly the elimination of 300 secure beds at Milledgeville, have had a domino effect on the system.

Teens currently sentenced to Short Term Programs are spending their time in Regional Detention Centers.  Now, virtually all youth under regular DJJ commitments, are diverted to non-secure community placements. Designated Felons (youth sentenced for up to five years in secure facilities for serious offenses) comprise nearly 100% of Georgia’s youth prison population. This means that community resources previously allotted to less serious offenders are now focused on committed youth, with increasingly less attention given to low risk offenders.

However, Minor believes the 2009 reduction in funding for Short Term Programs is having a positive impact.  “These cuts forced the state of Georgia to talk about its practices and policies around what type of youth need to be in what type of environment, and ultimately it was a good budget cut, if there is such a thing,” he says.

In short, the state was required to prioritize which kids belong behind bars.

By reducing the length of stay in STPs, Minor asserts that the agency was able to manage the required cuts with little danger to public safety.  He says, “Reducing the length of time [in STP] has not made a difference in recidivism rates for a program that has not been terribly successful.”

Many experts and advocates believe that less serious offenders should be diverted from secure institutions altogether.  Others argue that even low level offenders need to be held accountable for their actions, particularly those placed on probation.  The issue of incarcerating status offenders, misdemeanants and non-violent felons has been a source of continuing tension within Georgia’s juvenile justice system.  DJJ leadership has long sought to reduce the use of secure detention for these kids, and limit the use of STP.

It all comes down to managing resources, says Minor, particularly institutional programs that account for more than two thirds of DJJ’s annual budget. Secure facilities are now increasingly reserved for serious offenders, while at the same time overcrowding - the primary cause of DJJ’s past troubles with the U.S. Department of Justice - has been avoided.  The agency has made a conscious effort to maintain quality services and conditions in its secure facilities.  “We would rather close beds or a whole facility,” he maintains, “than jeopardize services to the youth we do have… We are still sound in our staffing patterns and procedures,” says Minor, “we are not going to warehouse kids.”

Of course, there are painful consequences.

Low level offenders no longer receive the same level of services.  The agency’s Runaway Apprehension Unit has been eliminated.  Academic class sizes have been increased in facilities, allowing for cuts in teaching staff, and the number of mental health professionals has been reduced.  More than 400 positions were eliminated with the closure of the Milledgeville YDC.  Caseloads for field staff have risen as positions were eliminated, and two years of monthly furloughs have taken their toll.  Since 2009, nearly forty administrative positions have been lost, as well as 82 probation and parole positions. Declining funding has also compelled private providers serving DJJ youth to lay off staff or close programs altogether.

More draconian cuts are on the horizon.

If DJJ’s FY 2012 budget is reduced by another 10%, the agency plans to close four RYDCs losing nearly 20% of its statewide capacity, and eliminate 128 beds at the Eastman YDC. Another 106 community treatment slots with private providers would also be lost. These moves would be far more difficult to absorb. “We have to keep reminding the public,” says Minor, “that DJJ is a child serving and a public safety agency.”   These, he believes, are critical missions for the state.  Minor is proud of the agency’s ability to adapt to ever leaner budgets, and of the sacrifices and dedication of DJJ staff. He is deeply concerned, however, that the proposed cuts for 2012 might, for the first time, prove to be “unmanageable.”

“Cuts of this level,” he argues, ”without reasonable public policy changes that people can agree on, are simply not doable.”  Yet he remains optimistic.  “Government does not innovate unless forced to with a budget crisis. There are still positive changes we can make in Georgia that will help kids, help public safety and help this budget.”  Georgia’s FY 2012 budget may well provide the opportunity to see if he is right.

Children’s Programs Need Data to Survive

Children’s programs funded by the federal government may be cut if evidence based data does not prove they are successful.  Youth Today looks at the dilemma facing well established programs such as Outward Bound and Teach for America because of new funding rules.  Just because a program has a positive public image does not mean it will get money in the 2011 fiscal year budget.  Juvenile justice programs that provide alternatives to prison could be at risk without evidence based data.

Non-profit agencies that depend on federal funding are now scrambling for congressional support and some are arguing that evidence based data may not be the most accurate way to evaluate their work.