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Juvenile center will soon see influx of regional detainees

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Adams County Juvenile Justice detention officer Jarmar Parker brings a dinner made up of a sandwich and drink for two of the six juveniles currently housed in the center. The 25-bed facility hopes to house more juveniles from the Pike county facility that will close soon.

NATCHEZ — Adams County’s Juvenile Justice Detention Center will soon be the temporary home to a lot more out-of-town youth offenders.

The Pike County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to close down that county’s youth detention center. The Pike detainees will be housed in the Adams County facility after Feb. 11.

For the Adams County facility, the closure comes as a boon. Subject to scrutiny from the Adams County board of supervisors for multiple years because of low inmate census and what they considered high operating costs, the center was kept open for the 2012-2013 fiscal year with a directive from the supervisors that the county youth court — which has oversight of the facility — find ways to boost the inmate census to offset its costs.

Adams County is reimbursed $100 a day for housing out-of-county juvenile offenders in the 25-bed facility.

Adams County Youth Court Judge John Hudson said that while Adams County will not house all of the inmates that the Pike County facility did, it will now serve as a regional hub for youth detention needs. In recent months, Adams County has already started housing youth offenders from Walthall County.

The McComb facility was used by many of its surrounding counties, and Hudson said geography was going to press many counties to use the Adams County detention center.

“The kids who were going to Pike County are going to have to go to somewhere, and Rankin County’s youth detention center only has so many beds,” he said. “For all of southwest Mississippi, we are obviously the closest facility for them.”

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Parker keeps a close eye on detainees as they eat dinner in one of the center’s cell blocks.

Whenever the possibility of closing the Adams County facility was raised, Hudson would argue that it would ultimately be cheaper to maintain a facility than to ship and house Adams County’s youth offenders elsewhere.

Adams County Administrator Joe Murray said putting somebody in every bed every night would not pay for the cost of operating the center.

“But it is not supposed to be a money maker, and the purpose of it is not to generate revenue,” Murray said.

The judge agreed that the center was never going to make a profit. The point of housing additional inmates from out-of-county is about helping to pay expenses, Hudson said.

“There’s this sort of thinking that comes along when you get all caught up in the idea of government being a business, but the Navy is never going to make a profit, the Army is never going to make a profit, and neither is the police force,” Hudson said. “They are there are for protection, and so is this.”

Hudson said the boosted inmate census might require additional hiring at the center, but the law that defines minimum guard count at youth facilities for an inmate population the size of Adams County’s would only require one additional guard.

The center currently has two guards.

“If it becomes apparent that the extra guard is needed, the additional expenses will be covered by the money (other counties) will be paying to Adams County,” he said.

The county has laid the groundwork for the possibility that the Adams County Sheriff’s Office could take over operations of the facility if the state legislature approves a local request that would boost the sheriff’s pay for the additional responsibilities, but Hudson said no plans have yet been finalized in that regard.

Federal law does not allow for youth offenders to be housed within sight or sound of adult inmates.