Alabama JJ event

Yesterday, ATR Policy Specialist Jorge Marin hosted Alabama State Senator Cam Ward (R-14) and Representative Jim Hill (R-50) for a lunch briefing on juvenile justice reform in Alabama.

At the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Marin led a discussion with the state legislators about their leadership on the state’s Juvenile Justice Task Force and the importance of H.B. 225, a bill to implement the reforms recommended by the task force.

Sen. Ward believes that juvenile justice must be a core pillar to reform the criminal justice system. “As an advocate for smaller government, I understand that public safety should be a core function of government,” declared Ward. “Tackling JJ is the earliest way to change behavior before it becomes a long term, high cost problem.”

Out-of home placements for youth in the juvenile system costs taxpayers around $162,000 per individual per year. These expenditures should be focused on public policy arrangements that make communities safe and help ensure children do not enter the cycle of incarceration. 

On cost efficiency, Rep. Hill noted how H.B. 225 will reshape Alabama’s juvenile justice priorities. The bill would refocus out of home placements to the most serious offenders and shift money from the Department of Youth Services to a more local focus. He also emphasized the importance of improving education for youths in Alabama.

Rep. Hill, who introduced H.B. 225 to codify the recommendation of the task force, is leading on pushing this bill through the state legislature. If enacted, the state of Alabama would save approximately $34 million by 2023 to reinvest into community-based juvenile programming. These types of correctional curriculum are proven to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

Marin questioned Rep. Hill, a former judge, on the deficiencies he personally saw as a judge dealing with juveniles in the justice system. Hill expressed enthusiasm for locally-focused corrections, declaring that “(The) easiest way to deal with Juveniles is in a local environment so you can interact with families and possibly even younger children in same household.”

Crime prevention is one of the core functions of the legal system, and correcting criminal behavior early in life is the best way to prevent future victimization and put youths on a positive path to success and fulfillment.

Public safety and youth success is too important for legislators to ignore. ATR thanks Sen. Ward and Rep. Hill for their leadership and urges Alabama legislators to take the appropriate measures and reform the juvenile justice system.