How a Georgia county is keeping more kids out of jail

How a Georgia county is keeping more kids out of jail

(NewsNation) — In 1999, judge Steven Teske joined judges at juvenile court in Clayton County, Georgia. He was worried about the fact that around one third of cases which he will receive relates to the school. Teske began to dig deeper, figuring out why he was getting so many school cases.

He realized these arrests spiked after police were introduced to middle and high school campuses in 1996. A year before the introduction of police in schools, the court received 49 referrals. In 2004, it jumped to close to 1,400 referrals.

“Ninety-two percent of all those arrests, okay, were misdemeanors. Those were misdemeanors. Most of those offenses were things I did when I was at school … disorderly behavior, disrupting public schools, school fights,” he said. . “I mean, things we don’t traditionally catch for kids, handcuffs, put them in the back of patrol cars. But that’s what we do.”

He began working with criminal justice reform consultants, school superintendents and police chiefs to change the way the county responded to juvenile delinquency.

Together, they enacted a series of reforms designed to keep children who committed minor misconduct from the juvenile justice system. They do this through “switching and turning”. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, diversion is when courts direct offenders through traditional sentencing alternatives such as community service. Deflection, on the other hand, is designed to prevent offenders from being dealt with by the courts in the first place.

Teske and his colleagues wanted to divert the flow of juvenile cases related to minor school incidents, so in 2004 they implemented a new tiered response system designed to reduce the number of misdemeanors—things like harassment and fights—are referred to court.

The Reduction in School Referral Program sees students and their parents first given a written warning when they commit a violation, referred to a conflict skills workshop when they commit a second offense and only referred to court for their third offence.

The district has also started monitoring children at risk of being sent to court and providing them with cover services such as family therapy.

These reforms reduced the number of cases sent to court. As Teske will tell later told a US Senate committee, “At the end of the 2011-12 school term, the number of students referred to juvenile court for school misconduct was reduced by 83%.”

Graduation rates are also starting to rise, and gun-carrying incidents are being dropped in Clayton County schools, though this may not be a direct result of the response system.

Teske also implements a diversion program called Second Chance to handle court cases where young offenders are deemed to be at risk of re-offending.

“They don’t go to jail, we put in ankle monitors, GPS monitors, we can monitor their movements at any time and know where they are. It will stay on their ankles for six months,” Teske said.

Kids will have mandatory meetings with Teske, weekly classes, and cultural field trips to places like the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta or the Braves baseball game.

Teske notes that the recidivism rate for children sent to prison is around 65%, but rates for children in Second Chance are generally between 17 and 23%.

He stressed that his system was not perfect and there would always be children who were given second chances and ended up repeating themselves. He noted that one of his Second Chance program graduates was arrested for murder.

He got a call from the local district attorney, who reiterated his support for the program afterwards because it reduced the overall risk of re-offending.

“(He said) if we get rid of the Second Chance program, then we will increase the probability that it’s not one murder, but in the future 2, 3, 4, 5,” he said.

Teaspoon retire from juvenile court in 2021. Clayton County continues to support the diversion and diversion program and local officials believe the program has helped reduce juvenile detentions. Colin Slay, Director of Juvenile Court Operations in the region, noted that they had only 427 juvenile complaints filed with the courts in 2019, down from 2,600 in 2002.

A number of other juvenile justice systems around the country have enacted their own reforms that mimic those of Clayton County, dubbed “teaspoon modelThese reforms are driven by the belief that putting children who commit minor offences behind bars can undermine safety in the long run.

“Prison is not a magic bullet, okay? And it actually in most cases makes people worse off. And we turn them into criminals,” Teske said.

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