Juvenile Detention and Alternatives Task Force to meet Oct. 5 in Natchez

October 1, 2012

The Juvenile Detention and Alternatives Task Force will meet at 11 a.m. Oct. 5 at the Jefferson Street United Methodist Church at 511 Jefferson Street in Natchez.

The meeting is the first of a series to examine alternatives to juvenile detention, formulate recommendations for licensing standards for juvenile detention facilities, and explore funding sources to improve juvenile programs.

The Mississippi Legislature created the Juvenile Detention and Alternatives Task Force during the 2012 legislative session. Senate Bill 2598 established the makeup of the Task Force and an advisory group, outlined a series of directives for the Task Force, and called for the group to file a report and recommendations before Nov. 1, 2013.

Adams County Court Judge John Hudson of Natchez is chairman of the Task Force. Rankin County Court Judge Thomas Broome of Brandon is vice-chairman.

Judge Hudson said, “The first of the major focuses of the Task Force is to recommend juvenile detention alternatives that can be used by all of the counties in our state to prevent the unnecessary detention of juveniles.”

“The second primary focus is to develop licensing standards to recommend to the Legislature,” Judge Hudson said. The Task Force will develop recommendations for minimum standards for juvenile detention facilities. It would be up to the Legislature to adopt licensing standards.

“The third charge is to develop a plan to assist in reducing the financial burdens that counties have for juvenile detention,” Judge Hudson said.

Juvenile detention centers are operated and funded by county governments. Only 16 juvenile detention centers operate in the state, Judge Hudson said. “It’s too expensive for very small counties to operate a free standing facility,” he said. Those counties which don’t have their own facilities rely on placing detained juveniles in other counties’ facilities.

The Task Force will work to develop collaboration among counties to reduce duplication of services, while seeking maximum financial support from state and federal governments, private foundations and other sources.

“The bottom line is making sure the kids that are risks to society are being detained, and those who are not, are not,” Judge Hudson said.

The Task Force will explore the development of a risk assessment instrument “which will define which juveniles should be in detention, and which juveniles should be handled by alternatives to detention,” Judge Hudson said. “The Task Force will identify juvenile detention alternatives which are workable and cost-effective and will recommend strategies to accomplish provision of these alternatives.”

Adams, Harrison, Leflore, Rankin and Washington counties participate in the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, JDAI, a national program which uses a systematic approach to evaluate all cases to determine whether a juvenile should be detained. A point system takes into account the nature and seriousness of the offense and other factors. The point score on the risk assessment determines who should be detained, released or supervised in an alternative program.

“Those alternatives would involve intensive supervision of the children without placing them in secure cells,” Judge Hudson said. Among the detention alternatives to be considered are global position sensor (GPS) tracking via ankle bracelets, and evening reporting to a location with supervised activities.

Adams, Hinds and Rankin counties, among others, have used GPS tracking via ankle bracelets as a way to monitor juveniles who have gotten in trouble, without confining them.

“It’s been a huge success in reducing the number of youth placed in detention,” Judge Hudson said of the GPS system in Adams County. However, the Adams County program is about to run out of money. It operated on a grant that runs out in October. “We are working to try to find ways to continue the system because it’s worked tremendously,” Judge Hudson said.

Judge Broome added, “The Task Force will be working to protect public safety and provide safe facilities to help our kids learn from their mistakes. We want to appropriately use detention and find community services for those who need it. Standards will benefit the counties and taxpayers by maximizing our local, state and federal resources.”

The Task Force includes youth court judges, county supervisors, detention center administrators, public defenders, a sheriff, county administrators, representatives from state Department of Education, a representative from the office of the Attorney General, a representative from the Department of Mental Health and a representative from the Juvenile Facilities Monitoring Unit.

Other members of the Task Force are: Leflore County Court Judge Kevin Adams, Greenwood; Washington County Court Judge Vernita Johnson, Greenville; Forrest County Court Judge Michael McPhail, Hattiesburg; DeSoto County Court Judge Celeste Wilson, Hernando; Assistant Attorney General and JDAI State Co-Coordinator Patricia Marshall, Ridgeland; State Public Defender Leslie Lee, Jackson; Washington County Youth Court Public Defender Errick D. Simmons, Greenville; Department of Human Services Division of Youth Services Director James V. Maccarone, Jackson; Department of Mental Health Division of Children and Youth Services Director Sandra Parks, Jackson; Adams County Juvenile Detention Center Director Glen Arnold, Natchez; Leflore County Juvenile Detention Center Director Robert Fitzpatrick, Greenwood; Rankin County Sheriff’s Office Juvenile Administrator E. B. Fox, Pelahatchie; Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center Director Chris Gilbert, Pascagoula; Rankin County Sheriff’s Office Attorney Richard Lawrence, Brandon; Department of Public Safety Juvenile Facilities Monitoring Unit Director Donald Beard, Ridgeland; Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis, Jackson; Mississippi Security Police President Nicky Maxwell, Pascagoula; Pike County Supervisor Luke Brewer, Magnolia; Leflore County Supervisor Anjuan Brown, Greenwood; Lamar County Administrator Chuck Bennett, Purvis; Lauderdale County Administrator Joe McCraney, Meridian; and Department of Education Office of Compulsory School Attendance Enforcement, Alternative Education/GED and Counseling Bureau Director Toni Kersh, Jackson.