County debates juvenile justicePublished 12:18am Friday, August 17, 2012
NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors will meet this morning to discuss the future of the county Juvenile Justice Detention Center — will it be closed, will it be operated by the Adams County Sheriff’s Office or will operations remain as they are?
This will be the third day in the supervisors’ budget discussions that the detention center will be discussed. The supervisors have contended in recent days they believe it is too expensive to operate, while youth court Judge John Hudson has stated that the projected $535,000 annual budget prepared by County Administrator Joe Murray is too high.
Murray said Thursday the budget is based on previous numbers.
“There is nothing inflated within that budget that is going to make the budget smaller or larger than what it is,” Murray said. “It is exactly what it is costing.”
The supervisors first met with Hudson about the detention center Wednesday, and Thursday they called him back in to inform him they were considering closing the center. Hudson said that he thought such a decision would be a “horrible idea” that would be both fiscally irresponsible and neglecting the duty of the county to care for its own.
“It would be a circumstance that we would not be taking care of our own kids,” Hudson said.
“We will be left with a nightmarish circumstance of trying to find places for our juveniles when we are left without a facility of our own.
“I don’t think it is in the best interest of the children or their families that we be sending them to distant places.”
The move would ultimately be fiscally irresponsible, Hudson said, because of the amount of time and money that would have to be invested in transporting juveniles to and from an out-of-town facility following his or her arrest and to and from court hearings, as well as arranging for the defendants to meet with their attorneys.
“We have no possible way of knowing we will have one particular site to go to,” he said.
“We are in the southwest corner of the state. (Other counties) are not stuck in a situation where the facility they are using is 123 miles away.
“Last I checked, gas prices don’t ever (stay the same). Your transport officer is going to be going 200 miles a day taking these kids all across the state.”
At the heart of the supervisors’ concerns was the juvenile inmate census, which has stayed relatively low. Hudson said that reality reflects a combination of detention alternatives the youth court uses and Adams County’s location.
Wednesday the inmate census at the center was four males.
Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said when the center was built, the board was told part of the cost of the center would be underwritten by housing juveniles from other counties.
Hudson said that if Sheriff Chuck Mayfield was to take over the operations of the center, he might be able to convince more counties to house their juvenile offenders in Adams County. The Adams County adult jail also houses prisoners from other counties.
Hudson also said getting legislation passed that allowed Louisiana juveniles to be housed in Adams County could help.
Mayfield said he has not had a chance to go over the center’s budget, and asked the board what would they like him to do. Grennell said he would not support having the sheriff’s office take over the center if it would further increase costs.
Supervisor David Carter asked the judge if there was a way he could meet with Murray and develop a system for bringing in juveniles from other counties.
“You hate to abandon it,” Carter said. “How can (a detention center in) Alexandria be filled, how can Hinds County be filled — somewhere we have to figure out the issue.”
Carter said that if the supervisors decide to keep the detention center open, they need to set a list of expectations.
Hudson said he was willing to work with the county and the sheriff do whatever was necessary to keep the center open.
“The main thing I want to leave with you about here is I believe in taking care of our own kids,” he said. “I believe that is our own responsibility. I don’t send a lot of kids to training school for that reason. If I can keep them here and change their behavior here, we will be successful here.
“We are able to keep our kids here and change our kids here, and that facility is a major, major part of making that happen, and I think it would be very difficult to maintain the same type of momentum we have had in youth court in the past without its services to us. I feel like it’s something we would live to regret.”
The board will meet at 8:15 this morning in the boardroom at the supervisors’ office.