Calhoun Questions Youth Detention Center Staffing, Transparency | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Calhoun Questions Youth Detention Center Staffing, Transparency


Hinds County District 3 Supervisor Peggy Calhoun's motion to deny Milwaukee Electric forgiveness for taxes because of errors on the company's behalf passed today.

Hinds County's youth detention center is once again the target of criticism, despite the county's recent agreement with a watchdog group that has voiced concerns about the facility in the past. Supervisor Peggy Calhoun raised the possibility of overstaffing at the center, also known as Henley-Young, during a meeting of the county Board of Supervisors on Monday, Nov. 16.

Calhoun told supervisors that, for over a month, she has repeatedly asked County Administrator Vern Gavin for the facility's weekly staff schedules. Gavin only recently provided her with information, Calhoun said, which she called "woefully inaccurate" and incomplete.

"I don't know if the scheduling information is not being properly documented and the records kept, or if it was an attempt to conceal the information," Calhoun said. "Either way, that is a serious problem."

Calhoun added that the documents she received suggest that the staff-to-youth ratio at the center often exceeds the state-recommended figure of one officer for every eight youth detainees.

"On some of the shifts there are too many officers being assigned," Calhoun said. "When employees are not scheduled according to the workload, that results in unnecessary labor costs. I know that sometimes the number of youths housed at the center will fluctuate. That is why it is important for the director to understand how to handle staffing."

Calhoun suggested that the center director could better accommodate changes in detainee population by splitting shifts or extending them to 10 or 12 hours while granting more personal time.

Calhoun's statements contradict previous claims by Henley-Young Director Darron Farr that the center is understaffed. Farr did not return calls for comment.

In June, County Administrator Vern Gavin told the Jackson Free Press that the center was "understaffed for maximum capacity." However, he said that the average number of detainees at the center has dropped since the summer.

"As long as you've got peaks and valleys in the population, you're always going to be challenged with making sure that those (staff-to-youth) ratios are met," Gavin said today. "Of course we're going to have to do a much better job of projecting, but we can never predict when a foodfight might break out and a rash of kids are rushed over."

"I do not condone the lack of transparency, and at this point, I'd say that's not the intent," Gavin added.

Monday's criticism was not the first time Calhoun has denounced the center's lack of transparency. She raised similar concerns June 2, after a rash of suicide attempts at the facility went unreported, even to supervisors.

"It appears that there have been efforts to cover up these incidents," Calhoun said at the June 2 board meeting, adding that she had never difficulty getting information when Youth Court Judge Bill Skinner was over the center.

Skinner, whose rulings determine the number of detainees in the center, also had administrative authority over Henley-Young until January 2009, when the board voted 3-2 to revoke it. Calhoun and Supervisor Phil Fisher opposed that move.

On Monday, Calhoun said Farr has mistakenly blamed other parties for staffing issues that he could solve. "The director of the detention center has repeatedly stated that there is a staff shortage. He points the finger at the youth court judge for not releasing youths, and he also points a finger at the Board of Supervisors for not allocating the necessary funds to acquire employees," Calhoun said.

Also at Monday's meeting, supervisors approved a memorandum of understanding with the Mississippi Youth Justice Project concerning reforms at the youth detention center. The MYJP, an advocacy organization focused on juvenile justice, visited the facility in December 2008 and called for a series of reforms, among them that officers immediately stop using a restraint chair. The county complied with that demand, and

The memorandum, which supervisors have debated in executive session for the past three board meetings, stipulates an appropriate staff-to-youth ratio of eight officers for every one detainee. It also calls for improving staff training and reducing the amount of time detainees spend confined to their cells.

MYJP attorney Vanessa Carroll hailed the agreement as a positive sign of the county's concern for its youth.

"By approving this agreement, Hinds County has signaled its sincere commitment to protecting the constitutional rights of youth in its custody," Carroll said in a statement.

Read the Memorandum of Understanding

Previous Comments


Regretably this appears to be pure politics. Calhoun is going to bat for Skinner's position whom she is a proponent of. Why in the world would anyone seek to reduce staff at a juvenile correctional facility which has had issues in the past with monitoring? Even though the majority of youth there deserve to be there, they are still legally "children" and should have as much supervision and correctional support as possible. Who cares if the staff exceeds a recommendation. That is a good thing!! I guess we Mississippians are so accustomed to our agencies being understaffed that one being adequately staffed is too much to handle.


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