A Georgia program called Second Chance is a blueprint for legislation to overhaul Georgia's juvenile justice system. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says it is credited with steeply reducing juvenile offenses in Clayton County, and its supporters believe a statewide program could save Georgia hundreds of thousands of dollars per offender. The goal is to divert offenders who are not violent or could be saved into community-based programs instead of locking them up. Even some who commit more serious crimes could see less time locked up.
The state has about 700 children housed in youth development campuses, which are akin to adult prisons. An additional 1,141 children were being held in regional youth detention centers, which hold children who are still waiting for their cases to be heard. The cost to the state is $90,000 per year for each juvenile held in a lockup. Pending legislation calls for court-sanctioned programs that would focus on the reasons kids fall in with gangs, commit robberies or burglaries, or get involved with drugs. It would examine factors like family dynamics and addictions as well as cover areas as basic as simple social skills, such as understanding the importance of a firm handshake. Steve Teske, the chief judge of Clayton's juvenile court, said Second Chance has helped reduce juvenile crime in the county since it started in 2003. That year, 4,774 Clayton teenagers were accused of crimes, and last year the total was only 1,936.