Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Juvenile Justice Released from Federal Monitoring

After 11 years, U.S. Justice Department Dismisses Memorandum of Agreement

After 11 years, the United States Department of Justice has ended monitoring of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice. Major service improvements in the areas of education, medical, mental health, protection from harm and quality assurance resulted in the final closure of the longstanding 1998 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).

“Our juvenile justice system was not up to par 11 years ago, but we have made strategic investments and placed a focus on improving the level of care these young people receive,” Governor Sonny Perdue said. “Our goal in this agency is to ensure that every child coming through these facilities is treated as if they were our own son or daughter, and I want to thank Commissioner Albert Murray and the rest of the DJJ staff for making the needed changes and improvements to bring our system to the level Georgians expect and deserve.”

U.S. DOJ and the state of Georgia jointly filed for dismissal in federal court in early May 2009, verifying that all requirements of the MOA between the two parties had been met. DJJ has received final notification stating it has met all requirements to close the MOA.

“This is a banner day for all Georgians,” said DJJ Commissioner Albert Murray. “All Georgians can be proud of the Department of Juvenile Justice and the employees who ensure we operate a constitutionally safe system. It has been my belief that DJJ has operated safe and constitutionally sound facilities and programs for many years, and we can finally put an end to any question about that.”

Commissioner Murray made closing out the longstanding MOA a priority, which led to a modified Memorandum of Agreement being signed in 2008. The modified MOA called for final inspections of DJJ facilities. Those inspections were completed by December 2008. Independent monitors ensured the facilities and programs were in substantial compliance.

The lead monitor for U.S. DOJ, Dr. David Roush, wrote in the final report that he has seen substantial improvement in many programs during his 10-year involvement with DJJ. Roush singled out DJJ’s Office of Medical Services and Office of Behavioral Health Services, which he wrote are used as models for juvenile justice systems nationwide.

The MOA proved to be a catalyst for positive change in Georgia’s juvenile justice system. Before the MOA, DJJ’s facilities operated well above capacity, and many necessary services were lacking. Now, DJJ’s facilities function within their rated capacity, the agency’s school system is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and the department has offices dedicated to medical and mental health care and has greatly increased youths’ access to both services.

Direct care staffing, including juvenile correctional officers and counselors, has been dramatically increased in every DJJ facility. Staff training has been standardized and upgraded, and the agency’s Office of Continuous Improvement monitors the system to ensure compliance and accountability.

DJJ entered into the MOA on March 18, 1998 and immediately began working to come into compliance with the agreement. In 2004, DJJ was released from the education, investigations, and quality assurance portions of the agreement.

Last October, monitors resumed final review for the mental health, medical, and protection from harm portions of the MOA. Now, with the closure of the MOA, DJJ has been found to be in substantial compliance with these portions of the agreement. For this final inspection, the independent monitors visited the Elbert Shaw Jr. Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC) in Dalton, the Macon RYDC, the Blakely RYDC, the Albany RYDC, the Macon Youth Development Campus (YDC), and the Sumter YDC. The facilities were randomly chosen for inspection.
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