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New law to alter juvenile justice

Speaking at a public forum Tuesday, Georgia Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, Avery Niles gave an overview of Georgia House Bill 242 and the changes it will bring when it’s implemented in January. (Staff photo: Jim West)

Speaking at a public forum Tuesday, Georgia Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, Avery Niles gave an overview of Georgia House Bill 242 and the changes it will bring when it’s implemented in January. (Staff photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — To incarcerate a juvenile offender for a year costs taxpayers more that $91,000. That’s what Avery Niles, Georgia commissioner of juvenile justice, said during a forum on juvenile justice Tuesday. Speaking at the downtown Law Enforcement Center, Niles said the high cost of incarceration is only one aspect of the justice system which will be improved by the implementation of Georgia House Bill 242 this January.

According to its official summary by the General Assembly, the reforms included within the bill spring from the Governor’s Special Council on Justice Reform in Georgia and are intended to substantially revise, supersede and modernize provisions related to juvenile proceedings and enact comprehensive juvenile justice. For its part in the change, Dougherty County will receive $300,000 to initiate the requirements in 2014.

“(The bill) will be real productive for communities,” Niles said. “It reshapes the way Georgia has always policed itself, how it houses juvenile offenders. It deals with those guys and girls who are on mental health meds or need substance abuse treatments to keep them stabilized. “

According to Niles, the bill gives local judges the power to act in the best interest of offending minors, which in many ways goes to the heart of the new bill. Before the start of the new year, three new therapists are to be trained specifically for the tasks at hand, said Nicole Janer, project manager for Evidence-Based Associates, the North Carolina-based company which will oversee much of the new direction mandated by HB242.

For those offending juveniles who are deemed non-violent, who aren’t real “criminals,” up to four months of “fundamental family therapy” will be provided on an in-home basis. Family members will be expected to participate in the treatments. According to Janer, the Evidence-Based system has a successful track record in 17 of 20 Florida judicial circuits. It’s been used in other states as well, she said, at a cost of just $5,000 per youth annually.

“We need to have more in the community act as mentors, and to offer jobs to young people,” said Herbie Solomon, Dougherty County Juvenile Court judge. “We need more role models who will take that young boy and show him how to be a man and to teach young girls how to become a woman.”

Solomon called the initiative “long overdue,” and said the new code will allow communities to attempt to “solve and illuminate some of the issues that are facing our children.”

Tuesday’s public forum was presented by the Albany City Commission. City Manager, James Taylor announced a followup segment will be presented Nov. 19.