Juvenile Justice overhaul coming

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The Georgia state Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday aimed at reducing the number of repeat offenders.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Wendy Willard of Sandy Springs, and was based on recommendations from the Governor.

Under the new law, non-violent youths locked behind barbed wire fences in state run detention centers could instead serve out their sentences in community based residential detention centers.

Judges would also be given greater discretion on sentencing, as well as drug and mental health counseling.

Dougherty Co. District Attorney Gregory Edwards said the reform is a step in the right direction. He said many young people have been sent from Albany to other areas because of an increase in juvenile crime, which the city's resources have been unable to deal with.

"We hope that the reforms will achieve the things that are a good balance for rehabilitation, reorientation, crime prevention and making sure society is protected from violence," said Edwards.

Edwards says Albany has seen an increase in juvenile crime...but many offenders are sent from Albany to other areas because the city doesn't have the available resources.

"If we're going to be doing more in terms of rehabilitation and that type of resolution of a case involving a child. I will need additional resources, and I'm sure that prosecutors from different circuits will be saying the same thing."

And while the bill may take some progressive steps in rehabilitation, it hopes to reduce crowding in detention centers.

But Edwards says redirecting troubled youths to residential based detention centers won't affect the way his office operates.

"We have a juvenile judge full time here and an associate judge. We do have a large volume, so my situation in terms of my responsibilities will be about the same."

The bill has been sent back to the House for approval of minor changes made by a Senate committee.

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