- Organizational and Large-Scale Change — Georgia Passes Sweeping Juvenile Justice Reform Bill: Georgia passed a comprehensive reform of the state’s juvenile code, aimed at reducing the number of youth in confinement and ensuring the juvenile justice system is focused on rehabilitation. The 248-page law prohibits detention of youth who commit status offenses, and instead designates them as “children in need of services.” The new code increases use of alternatives to detention for youth who are classified as low-to-medium risk and includes an increased emphasis on risk and behavioral health assessments. Additionally, the code ensures representation for youth at every stage of the legal process. In FY 2014, the law invested five million new dollars ($4 million state/$1 million federal) in community-based programs and in the second year, FY 2015, the law invested $8.85 million ($7.85 million state/$1 million federal) into such services. The changes stemming from the law are expected to save the state $88 billion over five years. H.B. 242/Act No. 127, signed into law May 2, 2013; effective January 1, 2014.
- Facility Closures and Downsizing — Department of Juvenile Justice Closes Four Facilities, Downsizes One: Due to drastic reductions in the number of youth held in the state’s short-term program (STP), along with state budget cuts, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) closed four facilities and downsized one between 2009 and 2011. The department closed the McIntosh Youth Development Campus (YDC) in FY 2009, which was a 60-bed facility for STP youth. In FY 2010, DJJ closed the Bill Ireland YDC, which had a 300-bed capacity and a $20 million operating budget. The Macon YDC was downsized by 24 beds in FY 2010 and another 56 beds in FY 2011. The YDC closures and downsizing resulted in a $26 million budget reduction from FY 2008 to FY 2011. Lastly, two 30-bed Regional Youth Detention Centers were closed in FY 2011—Blakely and Griffin. The state projects an annual cost savings of $4.5 to $5 million from the two facility closures.
- Facility Closures and Downsizing — Good Behavior Allows Youth a Chance at Release from Restrictive Custody: Georgia’s “Good Behavior Bill” allows the Department of Juvenile Justice or a youth to bring a motion to modify custody of youth committed to the department for certain designated felonies. The law now allows the court to recognize a youth’s good behavior and academic and rehabilitative progress, and grant release from restrictive custody after a hearing on the evidence. H.B. 373/Act 69, signed into law May 11, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.
- Sexual Exploitation of Youth — Legislature Addresses Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth: A new law amends Georgia’s anti-human trafficking law, which encompasses the commercial sexual exploitation of youth. The law clarifies its offenses; substantially increases penalties; allows for the forfeiture of property related to the crime; limits the use of the victim’s sexual history, relation to defendant, and the ability to consent as a defense to sex trafficking; and provides that a person will not be guilty of a prostitution-related crime if the act was committed under coercion or deception while the person was a human trafficking victim. H.B. 200/Act 54, signed into law May 3, 2011; effective July 2, 2011.
- Status Offenses — General Assembly Limits Detention of Youth Convicted of Status Offenses and Low-Level Misdemeanors: The Georgia General Assembly shortened the maximum length of time that certain youth can be held in the state’s Short-Term Program (STP) from 60 to 30 days. STP is a dispositional option that results in a short-term detention placement for youth. The legislation builds on a law from 2005 that shortened the maximum STP stay from 90 to 60 days, and additionally narrowed the offenses for which youth can be placed in the program, limiting it to youth convicted of felonies and “high and aggravated” misdemeanors (S.B. 134/Act57). The aim of both pieces of legislation is to keep youth convicted of status offenses and low-level misdemeanors out of detention and to serve them more appropriately and effectively in the community. Simultaneous with the 2009 legislative change, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice shifted STP youth from placement at Youth Development Campuses—which tend to be for more serious offenders and are generally further from youths’ home communities—to Regional Youth Detention Centers, which are designed for low-level offenders and short-term stays. The average daily population of youth held in the STP has declined from nearly 1,000 youth in FY 2004 to approximately 170 youth in FY 2011. H.B. 245/Act 36, extending H.B. 245 to 2013, signed into law and effective April 21, 2009. H.B. 1104/Act 674, signed into law June 4, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.
- Sexual Exploitation of Youth — Legislature Protects Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation Through Child Abuse Definition: Georgia’s mandatory child abuse reporting law was expanded to help identify youth who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation, by redefining sexual exploitation as a form of child abuse, and recognizing sexual exploitation as child abuse regardless of who is exploiting the child. Under Georgia’s previous mandatory child abuse reporting laws, many of the 200-300 youth being commercially sexually exploited in Georgia each month were unreported by professionals who could have potentially protected them. Mandatory reporters were only required to report suspicions of child sexual exploitation if they believed the youth was being exploited by a parent or caretaker. Furthermore, doctors, nurses, and other mandatory reporters in the health fields were prohibited by medical confidentiality requirements from reporting their suspicions when they encountered children who were being commercially sexually exploited by someone other than a parent. The new law provides an exception to confidentiality requirements, allowing these professionals to report the exploitation. S.B. 69/Act 151, signed into law and effective law May 5, 2009.