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Rockdale to be home to new youth detention center

CONYERS -- The state Department of Juvenile Justice is set to open a new regional youth detention center in Rockdale County on July 24.

The project, which has been in the works since 2009, will be the topic of a presentation by DJJ Commissioner Avery Niles at a meeting of the Greater Rockdale Civic Association, set for Tuesday, June 18, 7 p.m. at Peachtree Academy, 1801 Ellington Road.

According to Jim Shuler, director of communications for the DJJ, the former Rockdale-DeKalb Probation Detention Center located behind the Rockdale County Jail has been retrofitted for use as a 52-bed RYDC. Shuler said all the original open-bay sleeping areas were converted into individual cells to conform to the new federal Prison Rape Elimination Act requirements.

Shuler said locating an RYDC in Rockdale fits with the department's overall goal of successful rehabilitation.

"The Department of Juvenile Justice believes that part of the rehabilitation process for young offenders is to try to place them where families can schedule frequent visits," Shuler said in an email response to questions. "By locating this facility in Rockdale County behind the county jail, metro Atlanta area families who want to maintain contact with these youth will have shorter travel times."

Funds for the Rockdale RYDC were allocated by the state in order to meet the DJJ's bed capacity needs and to provide for a facility in the east-central part of the state where the department previously lacked bed space, said Shuler. The Rockdale RYDC will serve detainees from this area who currently must be transported to centers in other parts of the state.

Shuler said the Rockdale RYDC will open as a short-term stay facility, but will have programs and capabilities of a Youth Development Campus, including the extensive education and treatment programs of a long-term facility.

According to the DJJ, RYDC detainees are required to continue their school work until they are released or transferred to another facility. According to the DJJ website, the department is "Georgia's 181st school district," offering youth in custody the opportunity to earn a high school diploma from a system accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Correctional Education Association.

"Rockdale will have some top-of-the-line education materials available," said Shuler, "including white boards for the school, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports training and detailed substance abuse programs."

The new RYDC will be led by an experienced director who has been reassigned from the Sandersville RYDC, Shuler said. Training for one class of juvenile corrections officers has been completed, and another training session will get underway on July 8.

"Several new corrections staff hires at Rockdale RYDC have previous military experience and are among Georgia's success stories for DJJ's innovative military recruitment program," said Shuler.

Some additional employment opportunities with the Rockdale RYDC are expected in faculty, administrative and security jobs, Shuler added, with some of those positions filled through transfers from other facilities.

The building being used for the new RYDC was originally a 100-bed work-release facility operated by the state Department of Corrections. It was closed due to state-level budget cuts in 2008 and transferred to the DJJ.

The DJJ serves youthful offenders up to the age of 21. The department operates more than 25 facilities and 90 court services offices throughout the state and has more than 4,000 employees.