Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Hinds Youth Court uses GPS tracking

September 24, 2007

Hillary Cockrell eyed a trail of blue flags across a satellite image and a series of street addresses printed across her computer screen.

Cockrell, a GPS coordinator, was watching the electronic tracks of a teenager under the supervision of the Hinds County Youth Court.

GPS monitoring is the latest innovation which Hinds County Court Judge William Skinner is using in an attempt to prevent youths from committing crimes or violating other conditions of their release.

Since Aug. 15, some of the teenagers under the supervision of the Hinds County Youth Court have worn monitors which trace their whereabouts via global position sensors. The GPS technology alerts officials if teens are not where they are supposed to be, such as at home or in school, and if they go somewhere they are forbidden to be.

“It’s an alternative to keeping people in jail,” Cockrell said. “It gives them freedom to go about their daily lives. We know where they are 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Cockrell selects the parameters of where those under supervision can and can’t go, and programs those details into a computer. A device slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes is strapped to a person’s ankle via a tamper-resistant plastic band. The device transmits a signal which is tracked using GPS coordinates. Staff at a monitoring center in Salt Lake City alert Cockrell if anyone goes astray.

The communications feature allows Cockrell or a counselor to talk to the wearer, and the wearer to respond. “It gets their attention,” Cockrell said.

Attempts to remove the device set off an audible alarm and alert the tracking center. The device is so sensitive that even rapid movement can trigger the alarm. A youth playing basketball set off his alarm recently, Cockrell said.

The Hinds County Youth Court contracts with a private company, Court Programs Inc. of Gulfport, to provide the GPS monitoring service. Cockrell, employed by Court Programs Inc., works from an office at the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Jackson.

The pilot program is paid for by a $9,500 grant from the Department of Public Safety. The grant runs through the end of the year, Judge Skinner said.

Twenty-three juveniles were wearing the GPS monitors on Friday. They include some who are awaiting disposition hearings as well as some whose cases have already been adjudicated by the court, Judge Skinner said.

The Youth Court cannot detain a juvenile more than 21 days without an adjudication. If the case has not been adjudicated within that time, the juvenile must be released.

Those who violate conditions of their release after adjudication are held for 89 days at the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center under the Secure Intensive Counseling Program. In the mornings, they attend classes taught by Jackson Public Schools teachers. Counseling sessions are conducted in the afternoon. The juveniles do cleaning chores in the evening.

“These kids walk out of here better educated than when they came in here,” Judge Skinner said.

Judge Skinner said, “If they are arrested again, they fail a drug test, or they violation conditions of their release, they are going to do 89 days.”

Judge Skinner implemented the 89-day program and a juvenile Drug Court shortly after he took office in January. He also made parenting classes mandatory for the parents of juvenile offenders, and he started requiring parents to pay restitution for losses in property crimes.

“Those parents hadn’t been accountable,” Judge Skinner said.

He said he has seen recidivism decline as a result.

“If we can turn these kids around when they are young, maybe we can cut down on them growing up to be adult offenders,” Judge Skinner said.

The Hinds County Youth Court also recently joined 19 other Youth Courts that participate in the state’s computerized records management system. The Mississippi Case Information Delivery System, MYCIDS, enables judges and court staff to track juveniles’ encounters with multiple jurisdictions and cross-reference contact information about parents and guardians.

“Some of these kids move around a lot,” Judge Skinner said.

The MYCIDS program helps Youth Courts organize their work and records efficiently and save staff time and other resources. The MYCIDS system includes electronic docketing and record keeping. Case tracking features designed specifically for Mississippi Youth Court laws assist court staff in scheduling all hearings and other events required by law to occur within a specific time frame. The system provides modifiable templates for court orders and other paperwork.

Judge Skinner said the MYCIDS program will allow his staff to move from manually preparing individual orders and reduce paperwork and duplication of effort. The time savings will mean children in need of help, such as the appointment of a guardian ad litem to protect their interests, will get it quicker.

The MYCIDS program is provided by the state Administrative Office of Courts at no charge to local Youth Courts. The MYCIDS information database is housed at the Mississippi Supreme Court in Jackson. The system collects and retrieves data over the Internet on a secure, encrypted system. Off-site records storage provides a backup to protect against records loss in case of a disaster.