Presiding Juvenile Court Judge LeRoy Burke III presented the Savannah City Council with an equation Tuesday morning.
If you take one young person that society is “mad at” for committing a misdemeanor and lock him or her up with a young person society is “scared of” for a more serious crime, the community will end up producing two young people to fear, Burke said.
“We have to change the way we are looking at children,” he said.
Burke, along with Juvenile Court Judge Lisa Colbert, joined Savannah-Chatham police officials at a Savannah City Council workshop on Tuesday to present their plan for keeping young people who may have made a mistake from turning into regular residents of prison cells.
The current ways of addressing juvenile crime are not working, said Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin.
“If they had worked we would not be where we are today,” Lumpkin said. “So we have to think differently no matter what we do.”
The proposed collaborative centers on providing youth job training opportunities, a restorative justice system and the establishment of a multi-agency resource center to divert low-risk youth from the juvenile justice system.
By identifying and creating more effective and impactful interventions when youth are first arrested for minor offenses, officials say that they could reduce the escalating delinquent behavior and future infractions.
Under the multi-agency model, the youth would enter a secure area until a family member arrives. The youth’s social conditions would be assessed and a staff counselor would also meet with the youth, if necessary, and staff would discuss needed services with the youth and family members and develop a plan for accessing services. The staff would then follow up with youth and family concerning the implementation of the plan.
“We are hoping to have these interventions be more effective for people who are acting out,” Colbert said.
The proponents of the initiative say there is an opportunity to more effectively intervene with youth ages 13 to 18, where data shows a major spike in criminal activity.