By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
It is too expensive to put juvenile offenders in detention and giving a working mother a fine for something her kid did isn’t quite fair.
The Houston Board of Mayor and Aldermen is looking for a way to cut down on juvenile crime, vandalism and truancy and met with county officials and the leaders of local agencies to address their concerns last week.
“We have gone round and round on this issue and we think we can find solutions,” said Houston Mayor Stacey Parker, at a special called workshop meeting at City Hall on March 27. “This is a new beginning and we are looking for suggestions and ways to figure out ways to do something about this problem.”
While city officials were repeatedly told what they couldn’t do, one of the solutions that did surface was placing electronic ankle bracelets on teens that commit vandalism, break curfew, don’t go to school and won’t mind their parents or court officials.
Chickasaw County has one of the highest dropout rates in the state and Cynthia Autry, County Attendance officer, said truancy is a status offense and does not warrant detention.
Patricia Cantrell, Chickasaw County Youth Court Counselor, said it costs $100 a day to house a youth in juvenile detention in Tupelo. Cantrell said federal laws for holding a juvenile are very strict.
“Basically unless they are a danger to themselves or someone else, you are afraid they won’t show up for court or you can’t find a reasonable alternative to custody, you can’t detain them,” said Cantrell.
An adolescent offender program (AOP) was discussed, but it was pointed out this program requires a trained officer to monitor it, it is limited in what it allows and the liability concerns are high.
City officials have said they want to look into establishing an AOP as a sentencing option for Youth Court and this program might take time to create. The city is in the process of hiring new police officers and has expressed an interest in hiring someone with a background in dealing with juvenile offenders.
Having the County Youth Court sentence juveniles to wear an ankle bracelet was one solution presented to the city.
Cantrell said ankle bracelets cost from $5 to $12 per day with juveniles typically wearing the bracelet for 10 to 12 days. She said it is a reasonable cost and can be put back on their guardian or parent. Parents who fail to pay for the cost of ankle bracelets can be held in contempt of court and face more serious fines and possible jail time.
“One of the neat things about those bracelets is once the youth gets outside their established perimeter, an audible alarm goes off,” she explained. “If they are with friends, everybody knows the police will soon show up looking for them and don’t want them around.
“The device has very exact GPS and you can track if the juvenile is in school, at home, breaking curfew or has been at the scene of a crime at about the same time it occurred,” said Cantrell. “Once the word gets out that an ankle bracelet will be put on you, it becomes a deterrent to crime, truancy, vandalism and breaking curfew.”
Cantrell said the city would need to establish a fund to pay for the initial cost of renting the ankle bracelets and could later be reimbursed by youth court.
Alderman Barry Springer said he felt up to $3,000 could be found to implement this program in the city.
Mayor Parker asked county officials point blank if they wanted to be part of this program and urged them to promote it to the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors.
Agencies represented at last week’s meeting included Youth Court, Chickasaw County Family and Children’s Services, School Attendance Office, Region 3 Mental Health Services, Chickasaw County Jail, Houston Police Department and Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department. In addition to Parker and Springer, Houston Aldermen Shenia Jones, Tony Uhiren, Willie Mae McKinney and Frank Thomas attended. Chickasaw County Supervisors David Gene Walters and Russell King were also present.