Legislators look to reform juvenile justice system

Published 8:54 am Tuesday, December 19, 2017



State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, state Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo, and members of the Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force on Dec. 18 announced the release of policy recommendations that protect public safety, hold youth accountable, control costs and improve outcomes for youth, families and communities in Alabama.

“We know there are proven ways to change Alabama’s juvenile justice system for the better,” said Ward who co-chaired the Task Force. “Together we can create a better juvenile justice system that shifts young people away from criminal behavior so that they do not move into the adult corrections system.”

If adopted, the state reforms project to reduce the state’s out-of-home juvenile population by 45 percent from projected levels by 2023, freeing more than $34 million in state funds over five years for reinvestment into local programs in the community. The Task Force’s recommendations will provide a foundation for legislation that will be considered during the 2018 session.

“These data-driven recommendations will equip local communities with the resources needed to protect public safety and improve our juvenile justice system,” Fridy said. “By redirecting state dollars into community-based programs that keep families together and are shown to work, we can ensure that we are using taxpayer dollars to get stronger results.”

After months of data analysis, stakeholder outreach, and policy assessment, the Task Force found that lower-level youth make up the majority of the juvenile justice population, and that two-thirds of youth in the custody of the Department of Youth Services are committed for non-felonies. It also found that judges and juvenile probation officers lack access to evidence-based services that hold youth accountable and strengthen families in their own communities; and, DYS out-of-home placements cost taxpayers as much as $161,694 per youth per year despite research showing poor public safety returns, especially for lower-level youth.

Sen. Ward initiated the establishment of the Task Force last spring along with Gov. Kay Ivey, Chief Justice Lyn Stuart, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, and other state leaders. The Task Force conducted a thorough, months-long examination of the state’s juvenile justice system data. The Task Force included Alabamians from both parties and all three branches of government representing a diverse group of legislators, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, educators, and others. Specifically, the Task Force made recommendations to:

  • Keep lower-level youth from unnecessary involvement in the juvenile justice system through early interventions and swift, consistent responses.
  • Protect public safety and more effectively allocate taxpayer dollars by focusing system resources on youth who pose the greatest risk to public safety.
  • Establish and sustain public safety outcomes through increased system accountability and reinvestment into evidence-based programs in local communities.

In addition to Sen. Ward and Rep. Fridy, the Task Force includes:

  • Senator Cam Ward, 14th District (co-chair)
  • Representative Jim Hill, 50th District (co-chair)
  • Judge Bob Bailey, 15th Judicial Circuit
  • Daryl Bailey, District Attorney, Montgomery County
  • Lynn Beshear, Commissioner, Department of Mental Health
  • Gar Blume, Defense Attorney, Blume & Blume Attorneys at Law, PC
  • Christy Cain deGraffenried, Executive Director, Alabama Children First
  • William Califf, Designee, Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh
  • Derrick Cunningham, Sheriff, Montgomery County
  • Representative Matt Fridy, 73rd District
  • Senator Vivian Figures, 33rd District
  • Judge Adrian Johnson, 2nd Judicial Circuit
  • Steven Lafreniere, Executive Director, Department of Youth Services
  • Jim Loop, Deputy Director, Department of Human Resources
  • Cary McMillian, Director, Family Court Division, Administrative Office of Courts
  • Judge David Money, Henry County Commissioner, Designee, Association of County Commissions of Alabama
  • Chief Justice Lyn Stuart, Alabama Supreme Court
  • Dr. Kay Atchinson Warfield, Education Administrator, Alabama State Department of Education
  • Andrew Westcott, Designee, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon
  • Dave White, Designee, Governor Kay Ivey