Face, Vote the Truth About Juvy Detention | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Face, Vote the Truth About Juvy Detention

With so much knowledge at our disposal, we are running out of excuses not to fix juvenile justice in Hinds County.

The research closest to our "Preventing Violence" series comes through the series of reports from Los Angeles-based firm BOTEC Analysis Group. A state-city collaboration made the study possible. Jackson's own Sen. John Horhn pushed the Mississippi Legislature to fund the study in 2014. The attorney general contracted for the crime study and then released it earlier this year to Mayor Tony Yarber's Criminal Justice Reform Task Force.

In these detailed reports, BOTEC researchers outline the roles that education, poverty, culture and the spiraling cycle of early and continuous recidivism play in the workings of Jackson's juvenile-justice system. Evidence-based findings create a clear sense of how to tackle the problems that face our community, lower crime, make residents safer and even save money and improve economic development by taking proven steps to prevent crime.

These solutions are more concrete and dependable than the old adage that "the family is at fault," which is used frequently to explain away the perhaps more subtle ingredients that form the foundation for the next generation of criminals.

For change to come to Mississippi youth courts, juvenile chancellors and detention center administrators, it must begin with the philosophy of citizens. Admitting that juvenile detention does not address the core issues behind youth "delinquency" is the first step toward effective alternatives.

Of course, the natural question that follows is who will pay for those alternatives. We encourage the funding bodies, like county and state governments, to seriously consider alternatives to juvenile detention, if not for philosophical reasons than for the obvious: Alternatives to juvenile detention are cheaper no matter how you cut it. And as BOTEC teaches, sending kids to juvenile detention makes them more likely to commit violent crime later.

In Seattle, as Arielle Dreher reports in this issues, the cost to run a program that has diverted about 3,000 young people from the juvenile-justice system is the same as incarcerating eight children in a year. While Seattle's counties have more funding, the model is replicable here; alternatives cost less everywhere. The futures that young people look forward to in this state are largely in the hands of those who sign the checks. It is also in the hands of those who vote for the people who sign the checks.

The state has been working toward alternatives to juvenile detention for some time and has even invested in studying its root causes. By this time next year, the state will better regulate juvenile-detention facilities, thanks to legislative action. Now is the perfect time for the state and the counties to work together to create actual alternatives--far beyond ankle bracelets--that keep kids out of the system.

We must target our votes to candidates who understand the poor economics and dangers of continuing our current approach to juvenile detention. Whether it's in next Tuesday's special election for District 72 or in November, vote for candidates who are ready to actually make communities safer.

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