Sure, there are exceptions but nobody seems to take them as seriously as in the past. Like the measure to give the state authority to ignore any federal laws, regulations, court decisions it doesn’t like. What’s that? A celebratory tribute to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the great Confederate victory of the same principle?
Oh well, on the positive side the legislators so far this session are staying out of our bedrooms, wombs, gun safes and, for the most part, wallets. Why, they’re even discussing having actual ethics/anti-gift rules for themselves.
Unfortunately, and emphasizing a trend visible for some years, having shed the clown suit the General Assembly — and state leadership in general — stands naked before us, acting like a new emperor on the way to his coronation but with only a fig leaf to cover himself.
As Georgia intones about doing great things, it increasingly appears to promise a good fight without ever getting in the ring. Education is a particularly good example, of course. Politicians absolutely love it ... they just don’t want to pay for it and, while singing of its praises, have sucked great gobs of state funding away from it. At least with clowns one could see their pratfalls; with pretend magicians now on stage, stuff just disappears before the citizenry’s very eyes.
THIS IS NOT meant to criticize stated intentions, which recently have taken a positive direction and for which Gov. Nathan Deal in particular deserves considerable credit. Also, this is not ignoring that budget/revenue times are not what they used to be and spending dollars are tight.
However, saying is not doing — whether it is prison reform, pushing technical education, creating mental-health/drug courts and, apparently at any moment, overhauling the juvenile-justice system. The need for all these and more, including wider basic health-care protection, has long been obvious. Indeed, not having done them has cost Georgia taxpayers not only lost/wasted money but a lot of family miseries.
However, when one looks at the “sales pitch” accompanying most reforms one sees support is built upon a foundation of “it would save us money” with very little of the declared potential savings being applied to the cost of the necessary changes. Yet, if a new choice is to be made it should be paid for and some other, less-valuable government function reduced instead.
The juvenile-justice changes make for a good current example. They should sail through as the argument is indisputable. As Chief Justice Carol Hunstein of the state Supreme Court noted, a child in a youth prison costs $91,000 a year compared to $19,000 to house an adult — and when they get out, two-thirds of them commit another offense within three years. Come to think of it, if one could look at the juvenile records of the state’s almost 60,000 adult prison inmates, how many are there because no early intervention occurred?
OF COURSE, alternatives cost money as well — an estimated $30,000 a year per salvageable delinquent/behaviorally disturbed minor at a non-secure residential facility.
So, how much does the state propose to put into this planned policy shift whereby lots of money will be saved by using fewer $90,000-a-year lockup beds? Some $5 million, or enough to try to “save” some 166 kids.
Not only that, as Floyd County Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price pointed out, the new juvenile code requires a hearing for a child within 24 hours of being taken into custody. “That would mean,” he said, “that if a child were detained on a Friday evening, then the courthouse would have to be opened, including sheriff’s staff to maintain the public entrance and scanning machine, as well as court staff and sheriff’s deputies for the courtroom, to implement the hearing required. This would also mean that if a child were taken into custody on a Saturday, that a Sunday hearing might be required.”
And who would pay for that ... or housing in a treatment facility if not sent to a state youth-detention center? The assumption should be Greater Romans — just as they now deal with and pay for many of adults that the closed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital dealt with.
By the way, those with long memories might recall that for behavioral problems NWGRH used to have two entire units devoted to juveniles, one long-term and one diagnostic. It also used to have residential alcohol/drug addiction units as well.
INDEED, ABOUT 20 years or so ago the Floyd Juvenile Court — then as now especially motivated to remedy rather than punish — used to have a variety of alternatives to cells available — public, private, nonprofit — that state funding utilized. Pretty much all are gone now and even such operations as Rome’s hometown creation — the Open Door Home — are not only small but actually rather unique. Most communities don’t even have such.
Actually, what Floyd Juvenile Court has developed would better serve as a statewide approach and allow money to go much further.
Called a holistic probation program, it seeks to both identify and treat underlying behavioral problems instead of simply punish. Using this, Floyd County Juvenile Court has cut its transfers to state custody from 65 in 2010 to just 20 in 2012.
Similarly, one recalls the proposal by recently retired Floyd Juvenile Judge Tim Pape a few years back to put on a SPLOST then under discussion the building of a single facility to house all youth-related governmental operations — court, probation, social services and so forth now scattered hither and yon — to not only save time but also make communication and teamwork easier. That SPLOST passed but this proposal, then pegged at $6.1 million, didn’t make the project list.
With a new SPLOST list now under consideration, it is worth looking at once more. It was a good idea and an even better one now, as it seems to fit in to what the state says it wants.
ACTUALLY, the state should pay for similar consolidated facilities everywhere there is a juvenile court if it is serious about making this new approach work. Which, of course, is highly unlikely as is Greater Rome’s taxpayers avoiding shouldering most of the price, as has become all too usual, of the state’s grand new plans and schemes.
The state, as with most better ideas it proposes of late, speaks softly and in fatherly tones about helping troubled children while carrying a little twig.