House chairman proposes overhaul of juvenile justice system

BY BOBBY HARRISON

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – A key state lawmaker is pushing legislation that would revamp Mississippi's juvenile justice system and take the supervision of the state's two training schools away from the Department of Human Services.

The legislation, written by House Juvenile Justice Committee Chairman George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, is of special interest because Mississippi is being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice, which alleges mistreatment of juvenile offenders at the training schools at Oakley and Columbia.

“I am absolutely convinced this bill would address the lawsuit in its entirety,” Flaggs said Tuesday at a meeting of the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/capitol press corps.

Flaggs' efforts, he said, are twofold – to deal with the lawsuit and to create a system he believes is more likely to provide education and rehabilitation to juvenile offenders.

Many juveniles who get in trouble, he said, are not getting the guidance they need to change the direction of their lives.

“These kids need some help on the local level,” said Flaggs, who works in the Warren County Youth Court system.

Probably the most controversial part of the legislation is Flaggs' plan to take the operation of the two training schools out from DHS supervision and create a separate agency. The agency would be governed by a board appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker. The board would select an executive director.

But Flaggs said he is willing to compromise on all aspects of the legislation, including the call for a new agency and transferring oversight from DHS.

Flaggs said he thinks it would be beneficial to break up the Department of Human Services, but is more interested in getting other aspects of the legislation passed.

Under Flaggs' plan, the juvenile system would rely less on the training schools and would emphasize community centers and adolescent offender programs on the local level to provide rehabilitation and education for juvenile offenders.

He said the program could be phased in, and because of the diminished roles of the training schools, Flaggs said he thinks his proposal could be nearly cost-neutral.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bharrison@jam.rr.com