With a few clicks on his smartphone, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles peeked at live video of several classrooms in one of the state’s 21 youth detention centers.
It’s one of his tools to stay on top of things.
Some say that for decades the state has not stayed on top of educating the tens of thousands of Georgia youths who cycle through the system. They return to their families and schools having fallen behind in their educations, and may be unemployable.
Niles said he believes the educational environment has vastly improved. DJJ officials say efforts to help youths once they leave, updated textbooks and more teacher training, among other efforts, are showing results. Still, “You always want to do better,” Niles said. “Am I satisfied with where we are? No.”
Data The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed shows DJJ students were improving but still far below the statewide average on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, and more than four out of five failed to meet state standards in math, science and social studies. Three-quarters or more did not meet state standards on end-of-course tests in biology, math and U.S. history.
“I call it state-sponsored child abuse,” said Rick McDevitt, a longtime child advocate based in Atlanta.
Niles’ department has had struggles. For example, it wasn’t until late last year that it had the software capability to get some crucial information: the academic records of youths sent to its facilities. Niles, a former Hall County prison warden, said in an extensive interview with the AJC he requested the software, called the Infinite Campus student information system, when he took the job in 2012.
Niles declined the AJC’s request to tour a youth detention center, citing security concerns.
The Georgia Preparatory Academy
That’s the official name of educational programs offered by Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice, in the department’s own school district. Here’s a snapshot of it, by the numbers.
21 – youth detention centers
Nearly 7,000 – youths educated in the detention centers in the 2013-14 school year.
$11,000: approximate amount per-pupil Georgia spends educating
More than 100 – students received a diploma or a GED during the 2013-14 school year.
91 percent – of DJJ teachers are certified in areas they teach. DJJ wants all to be certified this year.
$300 million – DJJ’s approximate annual budget
549: average number of days juveniles stay in a DJJ facility