Kids who find themselves in the juvenile justice system have several issues that need to be addressed in order to make sure they avoid becoming adult criminals. Many times, you see on local news an arrested or charged young adult accused of a serious crime. After speaking with our local juvenile justice team, we know that sometimes those young people have a long list of bad actions. Inside 26 facilities across the Peach State, work is being done to get to the core issue or issues so that one bad action does not turn into a lifetime behind bars.
“The biggest problem, the biggest challenge is the absentee parents,” Avery Niles, Commissioner of the Georiga Department of Juvenile Justice said.
It’s a message we’ve heard before, this time coming straight from the top of Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice. Children who find themselves in trouble with the law many times have multiple issues to unpack.
“Until you develop a system of care to really get down to the core root cause of why this kid may have shop lifted or why this kid may have assaulted someone else. Until you peel back that, you are fighting a losing battle,” Niles said.
Niles, who has been in law enforcement for more than 30 years, told us a screening process occurs when kids enter the system. That means talking with a counselor or psychiatrist to pinpoint substance abuse, mental health issues or whether the child just needs a loving, stable home.
“Inside the wire, we only have the kid for a short period of time,” Niles said. “We put things in them whether it’s the programs we do inside or if it’s an education tract or technical certificate that we partner with our Technical College Systems of Georiga. Teaching these kids a trait so that they can have another opportunity to do right instead of doing wrong.”
More than 1,000 kids locally are either incarcerated, on probation or in a violation related program. Majority of them in the CSRA and statewide, about 80 percent according to Niles, are African American. He said crime though has no color. And what kids need to see are the success stories, stories that feature kids who graduate out of DJJ or while still there, go to the military, college or the workforce.
“They are walking across their stage getting a full blown scholarship while in your system,” he said. “What about those that parent a child, gave birth to a child while ‘in the devilment’ and then they leave you and now they’re raising a family.”
Niles said statewide as many as 1,300 kids are sent to seven long term facilities or 19 detention centers that are short term after assessment. And 10,000 kids in the community. He’s calling on mentors to connect with this village of kids and show them a better life.
“All I know is they came in the back seat of a patrol car, but I need them to ride in the front seat to go to the job market, to go to college.”
The success can be measured. Niles said just a few years ago DJJ separated the low level kids or Children In Need of Services (CHINS) from the high level offenders. Those kids who needed to be locked up stayed. But those who really needed services such as mental health services got them and are indeed rehabilitated.
Anyone who wants to volunteer with DJJ should click here. You can also email email@example.com or call 404-508-6532. The Volunteer Coordinator for Augusta’s YDC can be reached at 706-855-4887.
Photojournalists: Gary Hipps