Hinds County Youth Court implements early truancy intervention

August 9, 2021

Hinds County Youth Court Judge Carlyn Hicks has created a truancy early intervention program that aims to identify kids who skip school and keep them in classes and out of trouble.

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Judge Hicks is asking truancy officers for Jackson Public Schools, the Hinds County School District and the Clinton Public School District to notify the Youth Court when a child has missed 18 days of school. A liaison officer at the Youth Court will contact school officials and families to find out why children have missed school and work to connect families with resources that can aid in keeping children in school.

“We are not looking to punish parents. It’s not punitive,” Judge Hicks said. “The Youth Court’s role is to find remedies.”

She has seen cases of children missing school to take care of ailing parents, absent due to housing issues and other situations besides just playing hooky. “If it’s a resource issue or child care issue – whatever the issue – we want to see how we can re-engage that young person....We want to make sure the children are safe and have an opportunity to learn in a healthy and safe environment. We are interested in academic success.”

“We just want to know who those children are, who those families are before they become chronically truant,” Judge Hicks said.

Early intervention may be able to prevent truancy from progressing to delinquency and criminal behavior. “We have been studying some data that suggests children who are truant are more likely to engage in juvenile delinquent behavior,” Judge Hicks said. “We are dealing with an influx of crime across the city. We don’t want young people to be engaging in delinquent behavior or in criminal behavior.”

The roster of Hinds County juveniles charged with adult crimes backs up the studies. Scrolling down a list of juveniles currently facing felony charges, she noted a 17-year-old eighth grade dropout facing two counts of capital murder and armed carjacking, and two 17-year-olds who completed seventh grade and are now facing charges of aggravated assault, carjacking and auto theft with a weapon.

“Had there been an intervention in their lives in middle school” when those individuals were chronically absent from school, it could have made a difference, she said.

“We really believe it (truancy intervention) can decrease the rate of crime among young people,” Judge Hicks said. “We see this as crime prevention. We see this as community engagement. We see this as bridging a gap for families and children.”