Cherokee County selected for juvenile justice reform initiative

Cherokee County is one of three counties in the United States selected to be part of a juvenile justice reform initiative.

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ga. -- Cherokee County is one of three counties in the United States selected to be part of a juvenile justice reform initiative.

Juvenile court judges tell 11Alive their mission is to make sure young teens do not appear before them in a courtroom.

Any given year, the county receives about 300 complaints involving teens. Only 15 of those cases end up going to court.

Officials tell us they were selected to be part of the Vera research program because their numbers are low and to serve as a model for a reform initiative. There is a lot Cherokee County wants to improve on.

The cases range from run-a-ways, truancy, disorderly conduct, underage possession of alcohol and drugs. They are hoping the reform initiative will give them the resources to focus more on figuring out the child’s needs instead of disciplinary action.

Judge Tony Baker says the goal is to change their lives.

“They need to know that hey, all people make mistakes. But that we’re here and we’ll help you. But our programs are as good as the families that are involved,” Baker said.

The county says there’s one thing hurting them right now.

Judge John Sumner says they ran out of federal funding to have probation officers in public schools.

“We want to have a better assessment of alcohol. So when a child comes in, rather than sending them out for evaluation, we want to see if there’s a better way or an initial assessment tool and have a better idea of what that child’s needs are,” Sumner said.

He says the best way to help at-risk teens is through the school system with officers they can trust and who can help them stay out of trouble.

The county hopes to find new funding to get officers back in the public schools.


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