Breaking It Down: Connecting ACCA’s Foundation Principles & Strategic Goals

  • Published: February 17, 2015
  • The following article from the January/February 2015 issue of County Commission magazine offers a good explanation of  how ACCA’s Foundation Principles and Strategic Goals are connected, using the issue of juvenile justice as an example.

    The Foundation Principle on Justice and Public Safety outlines the county position on this subject. And then specific actions to further that principle are listed below as Strategic Goals, and the list includes calling for a study commission on juvenile justice. 

     

    State leaders need
    to turn attention to juvenile justice

    There’s been a lot of discussion around the state – and wherever ACCA members are gathered – about the overwhelming need to reform Alabama’s adult prison system. Changes at the state level, county officials concede, are sure to produce both intended and unintended consequences in every county in Alabama.

    County officials, especially those who have a historical perspective, know that adult offenders are only part of the “consequences” story, because there are similar issues with young people who come through the complex juvenile justice system.

    When the 2015 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature begins in March, ACCA will be advocating for lawmakers to create a study commission to do a comprehensive review of the state’s juvenile justice system, with special attention focused on funding, how the costs should be allocated between various levels of government and possible ways to achieve some efficiency.

    “The care, detention and custody of juveniles is a long-running and tremendous challenge to county government in Alabama,” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of ACCA. “The Association believes that the best way to move forward with reforms to improve this intricate system is to bring the interested parties together so that everyone can better understand the crisis that is just around the corner and work toward solutions with broad-based support.”

    During the ACCA Legislative Conference, counties voted to make the establishment of a study commission one of the Association’s Strategic Goals for this four-year term. Recognizing the importance of this issue in every county of the state, the Association’s Board of Directors selected it as an immediate priority for 2015.

    Aspects of juvenile justice to be considered include:

    • Who should bear the financial cost of housing juveniles detained by municipal law enforcement when a county facility is used?
    • How can funding for state-level services be stabilized?
    • How can the state ensure that it will adequately meet its financial and administrative responsibilities so that duties are not shifted to local government?
    • Does Alabama have adequate bed capacity for the current needs – on both temporary and long-term basis?
    • Can the delivery of services – and the necessary court appearances – be enhanced by technology?
    • What is the proper role of community-based services?

     

    Alabama relies on a network of residential facilities – owned by the state, counties and private interests – to house juveniles. Another key part of the system is the dozens of diversion programs, which are present in two-thirds of Alabama counties.

    Smaller counties that lack their own beds for juvenile offenders face an additional burden, because juveniles must be transported back and forth for court appearances.

    This issue is a particular concern in Etowah County, where the county spends nearly $400,000 a year for limited space in a regional juvenile detention center located in a neighboring county.

    Etowah County Commissioner Tim Choate said, in his county, more than 90 percent of the juveniles enter the system through interaction with the Gadsden Police Department. When municipal law enforcement brings an adult offender to the county jail, the city covers the cost of that person’s stay. But with juvenile offenders, the county foots the bill.

    “What is fair is for each municipality to pick up the bill on their juveniles,” said Choate, a past president of ACCA.

    The cost of holding the juvenile in the detention center is just part of the problem. When a juvenile offender needs to appear in court, a county deputy drives to Anniston so that the individual can go before the judge. “We’re paying for the car, the gas, the time – it’s all falling on the county,” Choate said.

    The state- and county-level elements of this system are closely intertwined, so any threat to state funding causes concern for county officials. The Department of Youth Services is primarily supported by annual legislative appropriations from the state General Fund, Education Trust Fund and Children First Trust Fund.

    So, when state dollars are scarce, as is often the case, the department has to fight for every dollar.