Magazine article Corrections Today

Managing Disruptive and Violent Juvenile Offenders in the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice

Magazine article Corrections Today

Managing Disruptive and Violent Juvenile Offenders in the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice

Article excerpt

During a two-year period of reforms, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has undergone numerous changes in operational standards and protocols. In 2012, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform to develop recommendations for improving public safety and decreasing costs in Georgia's juvenile justice system. The council issued guidelines for a new juvenile code and reforms, and in May 2013, HB-242 was signed into law.

The new reform law prompted a wide range of positive changes within DJJ. It prohibited status offenders and certain misdemeanants from being housed in secure facilities. It mandated the use of a detention assessment instrument, and of validated risk and needs assessments prior to detention and housing decisions. The law also required DJJ and local probation agencies to develop and adopt a structured dispositional matrix to guide placement recommendations. To help improve youth offender outcomes and reduce recidivism, the department was also instructed to use evidence-based practices for serving youths in the juvenile justice system.

DJJ operates 26 secure detention facilities in Georgia, comprising seven long-term youth development campuses (YDCs) and 19 short-term regional youth detention centers (RYDCs). DJJ currently houses an average daily population of 1,400 juvenile offenders in its secure facilities (approximately 750 youths in RYDCs and 650 youths in YDCs). The department has seen a marked decrease in its inmate population at several RYDCs and a decrease in the amount and lengths of stay of youths sentenced to YDCs. This population reduction is due in part to provisions in the new Georgia law, which also specifies that only the more serious and violent offenders be housed and rehabilitated in secure facilities. As this reform has steered the system to a concentration of the most serious felony and superior court offenders in short-and long-term confinement, it has also brought additional challenges to the organization.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

An article published in the July/ August 2014 issue of Corrections Today showcased DJJ undergoing juvenile justice reform while simultaneously taking steps to change the culture and dialogue between youths and staff within all of its secure facilities. DJJ partnered with Kristine Jolivette, Ph.D., at Georgia State University under an Institute of Education Sciences grant to implement positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) in all secure facilities throughout the state. (1) PBIS is an evidence-based framework that uses a three-tiered system of support to establish clear behavior expectations for youths. This tier system designates a juvenile's level of intervention and support. PBIS.org describes the tiers as primary (school-wide), secondary (targeted group or simple individual plans) and tertiary (individual) systems of support that improve lifestyle results for all children and youths by making problem behavior less effective, efficient and relevant and desired behavior more functional. DJJ Commissioner Avery D. Niles signed a policy for the agency to implement the PBIS program in 2013. The framework teaches, models and reinforces the expected behaviors; the PBIS system uses data to inform facilities where changes need to occur to improve outcomes. This innovative framework would soon distinguish Georgia as a national leader in PBIS implementation in secure juvenile justice settings.

As juvenile justice reform continued to advance, DJJ was expected to produce improved outcomes for youths. This required additional evidence-based programming, staff training and buy-in from youths and staff. Work had to be done to assure staff this was not just another short-term solution for behavior modification. It took time and continued effort for staff to accept PBIS as a proven, evidence-based, data-driven, decision-making framework designed to deliver measureable results in young offender populations. …

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