Eric John, AWER Historian, presented Mr. Tyrone Oliver, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice - DJJ. Mr. Oliver has been in law enforcement for 21 years, including serving as the Chief of Police, Social Circle GA, and also as its deputy city manager. He’s a fellow Rotarian.
In July 2019 Governor Kemp appointed him Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice. He is responsible for the daily operation of the multi-faceted agency of more than 3,500 employees that holds youthful offenders accountable for their actions through probation supervision and secure detention. DJJ has a total of about 10,000 children under supervision of some type, with 1,100 detained in secure facilities – mainly YDCs, which can hold offenders until age 21.
Also, DJJ seeks to protect the victims of crimes so that they can rebuild their lives.
The Department operates 26 centers and has 97 community service locations. Commissioner Oliver also explained the DJJ is actually a school system, making it Georgia’s 181st local education agency with a statewide enrollment. It has now 4900 students and operates the Georgia Preparatory Academy. The GPA is the middle and high school within DJJ – operating on 30 campuses throughout Georgia. All GPA teachers, professional school counselors, principals and administrators hold certifications from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.
There are 317 students in the General Education Development (GED) Certificate Program. Recently 38 earned the high school diplomas.
Tyrone said his main objective for children is that they find hope because so many do not connect with good opportunities, especially true in rural areas … there’s just not enough good things for kids to be involved in. So into that vacuum come gangs with which some 70-80% of the children are involved. He said gang activity represents one of the state’s most serious youth and community problems. In response to a question about staff salaries, Commissioner Oliver said the salary schedules are very low compared to the importance of the roles filled – detention officers’ salaries begin at $27,500.
The Commissioner also said if salary levels were increased DJJ could attract and retain employees with better education and interpersonal skills that could in turn increase the quality of services and likely decrease the numbers of children re-arrested who return to the criminal justice system – DJJ, or the adult system.
Mental health issues also plague many children, as does substance abuse, so stronger skill sets by a larger number of staff could contribute to better services. For FY20, DJJ was operating on a $350M budget but for FY21 the operating budget will probably be reduced substantially by 10+% in action by the Georgia Legislature next week.