The effort also comes a year after state lawmakers enacted major changes to the adult criminal justice system with similar aims of reducing costs and repeat offender rates, while also offering greater flexibility to judges on sentencing.
Willard said the enormous cost savings for both efforts should negate any misperception that Georgia was becoming soft on crime. He reiterated that the worst offenders would still be locked up. He said 40 percent of youth offenders in secure residential detention centers are there because of a misdemeanor-type offense or a crime that only a youth can commit — like truancy or running away from home.
"Why are they there? They are there because there are not programs currently in the community that judges can send them to," Willard said in an interview after the vote.
The effort for juvenile justice reform has also drawn the support of Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, who urged lawmakers to adopt the reforms during her State of the Judiciary speech earlier this month.
At the time, Hunstein said she often hears from juvenile court judges who are frustrated they have few options under the current system other than incarceration for petty thieves and other repeat criminals who need counseling.
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