What is the Georgia Youthful Offender Act?

When facing prison time, many younger criminal defendants and their families are concerned about them entering the prison system. Prison can be a dangerous and troubling place, especially for teens. Unfortunately, a long prison sentence often leads the young offender down a path of further criminality rather than a road to rehabilitation.

Given these concerns, in 1971 Georgia passed the Youthful Offender Act, which targets the treatment of criminal defendants, ages 17 to 24. According to O.C.G.A. § 42-7-8, the sentencing judge can make a written recommendation on the sentence that the defendant receive youthful offender treatment. While the judge can make this recommendation, the Department Corrections ultimately evaluates and then makes the decision whether to treat defendant as a “youthful offender.”

Under O.C.G.A. § 42-7-3 subsection (a), “Youthful offenders shall undergo treatment in secure institutions, including training schools, hospitals, farms, and forestry and other camps and including vocational training facilities and other institutions and agencies that will provide the essential varieties of treatment.” Importantly and to the extent possible, the statute adds, “such institutions and facilities shall be used only for treatment of youthful offenders who have the potential and desire for rehabilitation as provided in this chapter.”

Essentially, young offenders have the chance to go to special facilities for their age group aimed at rehabilitation and skills training. Such programs can make a big difference for those seeking to turn their lives around.

What The Youthful Offender Statute Is Not

Some people may confuse the Youthful Offender Act with the First Offender Act. However, these two statutes do different things. The First Offender act does not deal with opportunities while a defendant is incarcerated. Its purpose–as laid out in a previous blogpost–is to protect a first-time offender from having a life-long felony record.

The Youthful Offender Act is also not a guarantee that a qualifying criminal defendant will be sent to a certain facility or not. As explained above, these decisions are ultimately made by the Department of Corrections, not the sentencing judge.

Bottom Line

If you or a loved one is facing prison time and is under the age of 25 and has goals for rehabilitation, it is important that your attorney request you be sentenced under the Youthful Offender Act to help give the best chance of success. Call today for a free consultation.