The board of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice appointed an interim commissioner to head the state agency at a special meeting yesterday after current commissioner Gale Buckner announced her retirement earlier this week.
Avery Niles, chairman of the juvenile justice board that advises the department on practices and policies, will fill the interim roll starting Nov. 1 as the agency hunts for a long-term replacement.
The appointment marks the fourth change in DJJ leadership in little more than two years.
Buckner’s departure came as no real surprise. She already postponed retirement plans in 2011 to take charge of the DJJ, at Gov. Nathan Deal’s request, during a time when the agency was in “crisis mode” due to safety and security deficiencies in secure-care juvenile facilities around the state.
“I have stayed with DJJ until that crisis was corrected and I am satisfied the agency is operating on a stable path,” Buckner said in a statement. “After much prayer, I knew God wanted me to serve in this new role and I have heeded that call.”
Buckner, although retiring from state office, will move to a post in Murray County, the same area of the state where she started her career more than three decades ago. Last year she took the reins at DJJ after then-Commissioner Amy Howell was transferred to a less influential position in the state’s Department of Behavioral Health. Howell’s departure followed a series of high-profile and sometimes violent incidents in DJJ-run detention facilities, along with a small-scale embezzlement scandal.
During her short tenure, Buckner made a number of changes geared toward improving safety for young offenders and bolstering staff professionalism in juvenile detention facilities. Among other things, she established:
“As part of that restructuring we have enhanced safety and security throughout the system to better protect residents and staff,” Buckner said in an e-mail to DJJ staff announcing her retirement. “We have regularly inspected 28 secure facilities and 92 court services offices to make them safer and re-written more than 260 agency policies with more under review.”
“Serving as your Commissioner has been my greatest honor in my 34+ year law enforcement career,” she said.
Niles joined the Board of Juvenile Justice earlier this year, replacing longtime member Ed Risler from the same congressional district — the same district that the govenor calls home. Prior to that, Niles, a 23-year veteran of the Hall County Sheriff’s Department, served as warden of the Hall County Correctional Institution.
Road to reform:
Georgia’s juvenile justice system has had some rough patches over the years, including more than a decade of federal oversight after a 1997 investigation by the Department of Justice found evidence of serious abuse and overcrowding in facilities. Since then, conditions — including education and medical care — have improved and the department successfully exited its Memorandum of Agreement with the DOJ, a document the state signed agreeing to make more than 100 specific improvements to the system.
“The ironic thing was, right after we did that [exited the MOA] and we celebrated, I think the economy tanked and times of austerity kicked in,” Ed Risler, who chaired the juvenile justice board when DJJ exited oversight in 2009, said when we spoke in March. “Putting it this way, we [DJJ] ended up going from a $300 million budget to a $200 million budget, and you cannot maintain [the same level of services] — it’s no fault of anybody’s, it’s just the economy.”
While conditions for kids in detention have undoubtedly improved over the past decade, the likelihood a young offender will recidivate within three years of release has largely gone unchanged, hovering right around the 50 percent mark, according to recent analysis by the Pew Center for the States.
Those factors and others led Gov. Deal and state legislators to tap Georgia’s Criminal Justice Reform Council earlier this year for a pretty monumental task: Evaluate the state’s juvenile justice system and make policy recommendations for improvement.
At year’s end, the special council will present recommendations to lawmakers in time for the next legislative session, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be acted on.
Travis, come on man, everyone knows that Blank will be getting 500 million+ or so…
To my shame, I was recently in Myrtle Beach and they have one of these…
The city of Atlanta is issuing $200M in bonds to keep the Falcons in Downtown…
If the city of Atlanta owned the Falcons, it would be full of potholes, armed…
Stargate portal to hell? More like optimus prime fleshlight
"Destroy my iPhone" App.
Instead of tracking down your iPhone when it gets stolen,…