The analysis, done by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts at the request of the Senate Appropriations Committee, concluded that what the Department of Juvenile Justice spends is a relative bargain. For example, a secure bed cost $63,000 for the whole year in 2008 while a slot in a similar facility in Kentucky cost $72,000. Florida spent almost $78,000 while Virginia spent $82,000.
But few of the 49,000 youth going through the Georgia system that year wound up in the most secure facilities, known as Youth Development Campus, and most were in the system less than a year. That means that the average cost per youth at a YDC was $20,000. At a non-secure, residential-style facility, the cost was $11,000 while those living at home cost taxpayers just $3,000 each.
"From our perspective, the report clearly shows that we do an excellent job at the Department of Juvenile Justice," said department spokesman Steve Hayes.
Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee but hasn't had a chance to digest the report, which was issued Oct. 27.
However, some child advocates say the state should spent more and spend less. That is to say they want more services for youth offenders, but they argue even more should be provided while the children remain at home, where it is both less expensive and more effective.
"There is so much research that it is hard to find someone who doesn't agree," said Edward McNally, spokesman for Voices for Georgia's Children, an Atlanta foundation that lobbies for youth programs.
Randee Waldman, director of the Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic at Emory University, says additional funds on home-based programs would give judges more choices for assigning a wayward child to the type of program that would be best at getting him back on track.
"Because the community-based options are so few, we are sometimes confining kids that don't need to be confined," she said.
Increased spending is unlikely because of a steep decline in the state's tax collections. Hill's committee is faced with the need to make spending cuts rather than increases.
The Juvenile Justice Department has had to shrink its budget along with every other state agency. It has closed two facilities after getting the law changed to halve, from 60 to 30 days, the sentence for its short-term program. It has also imposed furloughs and layoffs on administrative staff.