Judge: Detention center is best plan for area teens

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — Gwendolyn Marshall teaches a group of seven juvenile justice inmates Monday afternoon in the detention facility’s secure classroom. Artwork with positive messages is painted throughout the facility for inmates to read and consider.

NATCHEZ — Youth Court Judge John Hudson said even though the juvenile detention center costs the county, it’s still the best and probably cheapest option for detaining juveniles.

“Of course (the detention center) costs money,” Hudson said. “So does the jail at the police department and so does anything that’s a critical function of government.”

The Adams County Board of Supervisors questioned the financial viability of the center at a budget meeting two weeks ago when the director of the juvenile detention, Glen Arnold, appeared to ask supervisors for funds to give his corrections officers a raise.

The facility, which was completed in 2001, cost nearly $3 million. The county is currently still paying an annual note for its construction.

District 3 Supervisor Thomas “Boo” Campbell said at the meeting the facility is costing money, and the county built it under the impression it would make money.

The county generates $100 a day for every juvenile inmate the facility houses from Franklin, Wilkinson, Jefferson, Claiborne and Amite counties, Arnold said. But he said a nationwide movement to avoid jailing juveniles has cut down on the number of inmates the local facility houses from other counties and locally.

“We did expect that we were going to receive more income from surrounding counties,” Hudson said.

Hudson said when the facility first opened he expected to earn approximately $50,000 a year.

However, in recent years, the county only takes in an approximately $15,000 or $20,000 a year.

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

Hudson said the county would have to pay approximately $100 a day per inmate to another center in addition to transportation costs for at least three hearings for each inmate.

Hudson said transporting and housing juveniles at another detention center would also be a “logistical nightmare.”

“We would be at the mercy of whoever had a facility,” Hudson said, pointing out at-capacity facilities would refuse to house more inmates.

Hudson said Mississippi has 18 juvenile detention centers. And most cities the size of Natchez or larger either have their own center or a facility located only 15 or 20 miles away, he said.

“We would be the only community of our size that didn’t have an operating (juvenile detention) facility within 40 miles,” Hudson said.

In addition, the Adams County facility also hosts alternative-to-detention programs on the second floor and Adams County Youth Court on the third floor, he said.

Hudson said the programs hosted at the facility, which align with the national movement to avoid locking up juveniles, are funded with grants. But only those counties with detention centers are eligible for the grants.

“Every dime (of the alternative programs is paid) through grants, but we get grants because we have a detention center,” Hudson said. “It’s a catch-22.”

The supervisors heard a report that the juvenile detention center currently houses three inmates. However, Hudson said the average number of inmates the detention center houses is seven a day.

Hudson said legislation that recently went into place should increase the number of juvenile inmates at the center.

The new legislation requires 17-year-olds charged with felonies to be tried in youth court. Previous laws required 17-year-olds charged with felonies to be tried as adults. Hudson said 15- to 17-year-old are the most common offenders.

And since felons are usually violent offenders, they would have to be detained, so the numbers of inmates Adams County will receive will increase locally and from other counties.

Hudson said other than the economic and logistical problems of housing juveniles outside of the county, there are social ramifications of sending young offenders away.

Hudson said he believes keeping juvenile offenders in their community — especially with access to Adams County’s Youth Court’s education programs — allows them to better themselves.

“The bottom line is society wins when we can connect kids to society,” Hudson said.

“The economic thing to do is maintain what we’ve got, as well (it’s the) right thing to do,” he said.

Hudson said the facility was built in effort to comply with a federal law calling for juveniles to be detained out sight and sound of adult inmates.