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City, county collaborate to divert Savannah's youth from criminal justice system

Savannah Morning News - 5/15/2018

May 15--Juveniles are being arrested throughout Savannah, but a recent examination revealed that many of the young offenders live in certain concentrated areas of the city, according to report last week by Jonas Subaar, a management analyst with Savannah police.

With these clusters in mind, officials behind an effort to dissipate youth crime in Savannah determined that a city-owned building at 2203 Abercorn St. would serve as an ideal location for a proposed multi-agency resource center being planned to address the issue.

On Thursday the Savannah City Council approved an agreement to allow Chatham County to use the building for the center, which is a collaboration between the city, county, law enforcement agencies, the juvenile court system, healthcare providers and social service organizations.

Mayor Pro Tem Carol Bell, who has served as the city representative with the group behind the effort, praised the partnership while presenting the plan to the mayor and aldermen during a morning workshop before the council's vote.

"This is one of the greatest collaboratives in this community," Bell said. "Especially since it will affect the way we handle juveniles who have somewhat strayed and have minor offenses."

The center is meant to use evidence-based screenings and referrals to divert lower-risk juveniles from the court system for less serious infractions such as underage drinking, truancy, or violating curfew, said Chatham County Juvenile Court Judge Lisa Colbert.

Too many young people with low-risk behaviors are put in custody with youth who have high-risk behaviors, which typically causes those low-risk youth to develop even higher risk behaviors, Colbert said.

"So often those children are brought to juvenile court and I'll be honest we don't do too well with them," she said.

Resources will be made available through the center and participating partners to target the root causes of delinquency and recidivism, according to officials. And early intervention initiatives are expected to be provided to address mental and physical health issues and prevent more arrests as the youth advance in age.

"We intend to link the children and their families so they can get services in healthcare, education, workforce development and to strengthen our economy by doing all of those things that will impact not only the children but their families and caregivers," said Adam Walker, director of mission services at St. Joseph's/Candler.

To aid in the effort, the proposed center is located within blocks of the African-American Health Information & Resource Center, St. Mary's Community Center and St. Mary's Health Center, Walker said.

"It's important to bring services to the community but it's not feasible to have all the services in that one building," he said.

Court officials will next present a budget request for county commissioners to fund an executive director position for the center, as well as other operational costs, Colbert said.

The commission also has to approved the lease agreement to use the building, which has been vacant since the city's Community Planning and Development department relocated to Chatham Parkway earlier this year.

If approved, city would lease the building to the county for $1 a year, while also being responsible for any major capital improvements. The county would be responsible for providing staffing, security, utilities, routine maintenance and minor repairs.

In development since 2016, officials are hoping to have the center operating by the beginning of the school year in August.

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(c)2018 Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.)

Visit the Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.) at savannahnow.com

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