Welfare Watch - September 17, 2009 - DJJ Closes Ireland Facility in Macon

The Department of Juvenile Justice faced with the challenge of cutting millions from their budget for this year, is planning on closing it oldest secure facility for juvenile offenders.  The Bill Ireland Youth Detention Center is over 103 years old.  The infrastructure is out of date and the needs to be updated.  Closing the facility will save the State about $18.5 million. 

This closure will hit the Milledgeville area especially hard.  Over 300 jobs will be lost and 300 secure beds will be gone from the system.

As explained in the August Board meeting, this decision was not easy.  Not closing it would result in more costly operations by the state and less effective services to the youth that this facility serves.  The Milledgeville facility was built in a different age that served a different child.  Because of this facility's design and age, it has a 38% higher incident rate than other units in Georgia's DJJ system. 

DJJ has been moving for a number of years to more evidence based work, which includes community and family centered practices.  These practices have shown to be more effective than the "lockups" in the past.  Most youth who enter the DJJ system do not need a secure facility.  "Only the worst of the worst should be filling a "hard" bed," as one DJJ spokesman explained.  We have found that youth served by community and family centered practices are 32% less likely to come back into the system. 

Community and family centered practices are far cheaper as well.  A "hard" YDC bed costs the state $210 per day.  A staff secure residential community placement costs the State $137per day.  Community supervision costs only $7 per day.   

The public perception is that all youth need to be "scared straight" through some time in lock up.  The data just does not support this.  Public safety is better protected when we give communities and families the supports that they need to keep their children out of trouble.  Sometimes our "gut feelings" do not measure up to the data that we see.  DJJ's policy and practice is increasingly informed by outcomes and evidence produced by those practices.  It saves the State money and protects public safety better. 

DJJ is hoping sometime in the future to bring back a secure facility in the middle Georgia area, but not right now in this economic downturn. 

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Welfare Watch, an email newsletter of the
Georgia Association of Homes
and Services for Children
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Normer Adams, Editor
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