There are a few success stories to tell about the new Thomas Jackson Juvenile Justice Center. It is an idea that Judge Quintress Gilbert and Judge Tom Matthews have been holding onto for 16 years. The former Bibb County Commission took the idea and sold it to the residents in the last special purpose local option sales tax. The SPLOST oversight committee watched the pennies and the juvenile justice center came in ahead of schedule and under budget.
But the real measure of success will be whether the programs that fill the facility can address a system that, in the words of Lee Robinson, the circuit public defender, has “put a lot of our poor young men behind bars” in a state that has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the world.
Robinson said we cannot afford to have Superior Court be the first place for intervention, and the juvenile justice center will provide options to incarceration. We’ve known for a long time that incarceration simply does not work when it comes to rehabilitation. In fact, incarceration is just a place to warehouse people we’re scared of. Where do those people come from? They didn’t start off as criminals. How do we address issues that impact juveniles early enough to make a difference in their lives and the life of this community?
This center will allow early intervention not only for troubled youth, but for the families that produced them. The center will also have programs that address abuse and deprivation of youth.
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The residents of Bibb County, as the ribbons are being cut, should pat themselves on the back for having the good sense to vote for their future. While the juvenile justice center is a visible structure the SPLOST has paid for (money from the SPLOST was also used to attract Tractor Supply), there are others being constructed, namely, the new animal shelter and two fire stations. Those facilities would not have been possible without the SPLOST. It is a valuable tool we have used time and again for the betterment of our community.