Judges seek permission to accept grant to rehabilitate rather than lock up
August 15, 2013–Juvenile Court Judges Pamela Doumar and Jennifer McKinzie appeared before the Public Safety Committee along with Court Administrator Tom Gunnels, looking for permission to accept $250,000 in non-matching funds to provide a nine-month pilot program to help reduce the rate of felony commitments to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
According to Doumar, the grant came about because Governor Nathan Deal was tired of paying $90,000 each time a kid was put in the system, especially when the kid was not rehabilitated.
“With that $250,000, what the governor expects all juvenile courts to now do is put in place an evidence-based program that actually produces some results, actually rehabilitates and actually treats so that we don’t have this recidivism that we continue to have in juvenile court,” she said.
According to Doumar, who was appointed to the Augusta Judicial Circuit last September, the juvenile court system used Multisystemic Therapy (MST) about eight or nine years ago, and it was very effective.
“They’ve been here before, and it works,” she said. “They do an assessment on the family. They figure out what they need. They have counseling for alcohol and addictive behaviors.”
Commissioner Donnie Smith, a lieutenant with the Georgia State Patrol, expressed skepticism that treating families for alcohol and drug addiction could protect the public from a juvenile with a handgun. Doumar countered by saying that juvenile offender with a handgun would likely not have a place in the program.
“We are still going to put kids in detention and we are still going to have commitments,” she said. “This is not for that type of child. We are going to protect the folks in this room, but we want to use tax dollars wisely. We now have an evidence-based program paid for by the state coming to Richmond County that we actually get to try for nine months to see if it works. If it does not work, we have to go back to the status quo.”
Smith, who in the past has been vocal against programs where the funding is eventually shifted back to the local level, again expressed doubt that free ultimately meant free.
“I hear that this is a nine-month thing, but at the end of nine months you’re going to be back here asking us for some money,” he said.
“It’s a non-matching grant,” Doumar replied.
“I understand, but when this nine-month commitment runs out, you’re going to come back and ask for some money.”
According to Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who until January worked part time as a juvenile intake officer, the need is so great that the funding is irrelevant.
“Nine months for now, and if this doesn’t work, I’ll support coming back with another program, because we have to do something,” he said. “Some of the kids I had to lock up because of the things that they committed, but some of those kids had to be locked up because there were no parents to release them to.”
Commissioner Marion Williams was also supportive of the program.
“The problem to me is, babies are raising babies and they’re not getting training,” he said. “So we’ve got to go back as far as training.”
Commissioner Bill Lockett took a practical approach.
“It was effective in the past, and I think this one will be effective, too,” he said. “We’ve got a quarter million dollars without having to match, and if we incarcerate three juveniles at $90,000 each, that’s $270,000 right there. And after nine months, if for some reason or another governor does not want to give you additional money, you should come back to this body and ask for the money, because I know good and well that you’re going to council more than three people, which will be a lot cheaper than incarcerating three at $90,000 each.”
Commissioner Alvin Mason agreed, hinting that he would also support funding the program, should the state not follow through with its funding.
“Anytime that you can identify funds that we don’t have to dole out for serious issues that are going on in your community, it’s a no brainer,” he said. “I think this program is so important not only now, but also in the future. If it turns out that it does what it means to do, I probably would foresee it still being available in years to come.”