Juvenile detention costs county

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, August 17, 2011

NATCHEZ — A national push for alternative measures to locking up juvenile delinquents brought the financial viability of the Adams County Juvenile Detention Center into question Tuesday.

Like many department heads this week, juvenile justice department head Glen Arnold met with the Adams County Board of Supervisors at the board’s budget meeting to discuss his department’s budget.

District 3 Supervisor Thomas “Boo” Campbell said the board decided it could afford to build the facility years ago based on the fact that it would generate income by housing juveniles from surrounding counties.

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“That’s what really sold us (to build the facility), and it never materialized,” Campbell said.

Arnold said the county generates $100 a day for every juvenile inmate the facility houses from Franklin, Wilkinson, Jefferson, Claiborne and Amite counties.

District 5 Supervisors S.E. “Spanky” Felter suggested Arnold find a way to lure other counties to house their juveniles in Adams County.

“Then you could at least break even,” Felter said.

But Arnold said a nationwide movement to avoid jailing juveniles has cut down on the number of inmates the local facility houses from other counties and from Adams County.

“We don’t have the population of city or county jails because of alternative programs (agencies) put these kids in,” Arnold said. “There’s a movement in the entire nation to not lock kids up.”

The department, which employs more than eight juvenile detention officers, is currently housing only three inmates, Arnold said Tuesday. And since the three inmates reside in Adams County they generate no revenue, he said.

Juvenile justice employs eight officers to work steady shifts, Arnold said, and two officers work each shift. Additionally, one person rotates as needed to fill in for ill officers or those on vacation.

Arnold said Adams County pays its juvenile detention officers $9.63 an hour.

“We have the lowest paid juvenile detention center (employees) in the state,” Arnold said.

And a high turnover rate is likely the result of low pay and challenges of the job, he said.

“I wish I could make money and pay people (more), but they can (currently) work at Popeye’s and Burger King without the hassle,” Arnold said.

The maintenance department also spends money repairing damage juvenile inmates cause to the facility, County Administrator Joe Murray said.

Board President Darryl Grennell said it might make more sense to send juveniles to Pike County’s juvenile detention center rather than maintain one in Adams County.

Campbell said the facility is costing money, and the county built it under the impression it would make money.

“This detention center is not holding its own, period,” Campbell said.

Felter suggested the board give Youth Court Judge John Hudson six months to turn the facility around.

“It’s not going to turn around,” Arnold said.

The average number of juveniles housed at the juvenile detention center is eight, Arnold said. Most of the juveniles become detained for selling drugs, burglary or shoplifting, he said. Inmates are ages 10 to 18, with 15 as the average age, he said. The facility houses 25 juveniles at full capacity. At one point this summer, Arnold said, the faculty housed a higher than average 15 juveniles.

Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne said the county has not yet paid off its debt service for the facility.

Arnold requested raises for his current employees. He said the next lowest rate for juvenile detention officers in the state is $10.25 or $10.50.

Grennell suggested the board receive a monthly update report about juvenile detention center in the interim. Felter made a motion based on Grennell’s suggestion, Cambell seconded it and the vote was unanimous.

Lazarus told Arnold the board would wait until the budget was complete before addressing pay raises.

Arnold said though he knows he cannot afford to, he wished he could require more job qualifications and pay officers a decent salary because they have 24-hour contact with the juveniles and an opportunity to reach them.

“They do what they can but are not professionally trained to give attention,” Arnold said.

In other budget news:

Representing youth court, Mary Kay Doherty requested a budget increase of approximately $12,000 for a portion of a salary for the Court Appointed Special Advocate program director.

Doherty said youth court was denied two grants she applied for this year to pay for the salary. In addition to $5,000 from the United Way, grant funds have paid the CASA director’s $29,000 salary past years.

Murray said juvenile justice does not have room in the budget from last year to make the difference of the salary.

“(Hudson) really is spending about exactly what he has in budget,” Murray said.

Doherty said the state requires legal advocates for juveniles. If the county does not hire a CASA director it would have to take a more expensive route of contracting lawyers.

She said 3,178 hours were spent on child advocacy groups in 2010 for 227 children involved in child abuse cases in Adams County.