Opinion

February 13, 2013

Rep. Bruce Broadrick: Seeking ways to help handle troubled youth

The fourth week of the 2013 legislative session proved to be an important week under the Gold Dome. Committees met to consider legislation, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein of the Georgia Supreme Court delivered the State of the Judiciary Address, and we ended the week by approving the Amended Fiscal Year 2013 state budget.

The House and Senate went into a joint session on Thursday in the House of Representatives for the State of the Judiciary Address. We welcomed Hunstein and the Georgia Supreme Court, the Georgia Court of Appeals and other guests to the chamber.

In her address, Hunstein focused on the state’s ongoing criminal justice reforms. These reforms first started in 2011, when the General Assembly created the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. Since then, the council has worked diligently to find ways to protect the public’s safety and hold offenders accountable, all while keeping an eye on the financial impact to the state budget. Last year these efforts resulted in the enactment of House Bill 1176, which diverts nonviolent and low-level offenders away from costly prison beds and into more effective drug and mental health courts and treatment programs. According to Hunstein, HB 1176 is already producing positive results for the state. For example, expanding the number of state drug and mental health courts, as well as the number of substance abuse and mental health treatment centers, has put the state on track to save $264 million in prison expenses over the next five years.

Hunstein went on to say that since the criminal justice reforms for adult offenders have begun to produce positive results, the special council is now looking into ways to better handle youth who break the law. Nearly 2,000 children in Georgia currently live in a youth prison, youth jail or state residential program, such as a group home. More than half of these children were sent to these state facilities for committing nonviolent offenses, and 25 percent are there for misdemeanor or status offenses that would not be a crime if committed by an adult.

All too often, children are sent to these facilities because of a lack of community-based programs. This leaves juvenile judges with no alternative but to send these children to locked detention centers. This problem unfortunately puts some nonviolent children on a path to adult criminality. Given that it costs the state $91,000 per year to house one child in a correctional facility and that 65 percent of the children in these facilities will commit another offense within three years of getting out, it seems clear that taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth. After hearing from Hunstein, I am eager to help look for ways that the state can better handle troubled youth.

In addition to the State of the Judiciary Address, the House also passed House Bill 105 — the Amended Fiscal Year 2013 (AFY 2013) state budget. Each year the amended budget takes into account the difference between the expected revenue used to create the fiscal year budget and a more accurate estimate obtained halfway through that fiscal year. Since the state did not reach the level of economic growth predicted last year, the AFY 2013 state budget reduces current state spending by $26.3 million. Despite this reduction, we are still able to make the budget meet the growing needs of the state by adjusting some of the state’s revenue sources and enacting budget cuts to most state agencies. These proactive measures allowed us to add $245 million for Medicaid and completely eliminate cuts to Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers. We were also able to soften reductions to key education programs.

You can reach me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-0202 or email me at Bruce.Broadrick@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

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