Bibb awarded $388,000 juvenile justice grant

pramati@macon.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Though construction of Bibb County’s Juvenile Justice Center won’t be completed until next year, the county is getting the jump on some of the programs it will offer to help reduce recidivism among teenagers.

The state’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council awarded a $388,775 juvenile justice incentive grant to the county to target 60 teenagers 14 to 16 years old for programs with a proven record of keeping youths out of jail. Officials said the county has been working on the grant for about a year.

“This (grant) gives us a jump-start (on the center),” Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said. “It will certainly help us refine these things. The grant gives us the opportunity to get these programs going. I’m excited about this one. This will save taxpayers money and reduce the need to build another jail.”

Officials said the program is scheduled to start Oct. 15, and the county will announce Monday its partner agencies in the program.

The grant will fund two proven programs: one is diversionary with an aim to keep youths out of the criminal justice system, and one targets recidivism, designed to keep them from returning to youth detention centers.

Thomas Matthews, chief Juvenile Court judge, said judges will have the discretion to assign youths to the program.

“It will help prevent children from reoffending,” he said. “We need to apply the program to the right children. ... It’s primarily a diversion program.”

By moving some children into the diversion programs, Matthews said, it will allow judges to focus attention on more serious offenders who need to be incarcerated.

Once a teenager enters the program, the court will be able to monitor the offender’s progress to see if he or she will need to be placed in detention.

Officials said more than half of youth offenders in Georgia end up returning to a detention center or prison within three years.

Once the Juvenile Justice Center is completed -- likely in the summer of 2014 -- it will offer a campus to provide a variety of social services to at-risk youths and their parents.

With the excessive rain from this summer finally subsiding, Hart said he is satisfied with the pace of construction for the new center.

“I’m very pleased with the progress,” he said. “The weather has held up, so it’s going a lot faster.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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