Editorial, Wednesday, April 26, 2000

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Lee County’s Board of Supervisors chose an administrator Monday for the Juvenile Detention Center, six months before its scheduled opening.

The refreshing, proactive hiring of an experienced law enforcement specialist, Robin Elisabeth Cobb of the Union County Sheriff’s Department, demonstrates the kind of concern juvenile justice demands in Lee County.

The juvenile jail is scheduled to open in October at an isolated site north of downtown, near but separated from the Lee County Jail (for adults).

Lee County operates out of a temporary juvenile jail on North Front Street, and it is inadequate. An astounding 9,300 juveniles have been placed at the center, which has only six beds, during the last four years. The vast majority of juveniles sent to the jail have come from Lee County. About 13 percent have come from other counties under agreements between law enforcement agencies. Some of the detainees have been sent more than once.

Cobb is a drug education officer, and she will need her speciality in the administrative post because many of the alleged or convicted juvenile offenders get there on drug-related charges.

The new juvenile jail will have 26 beds, with specialized design to separate male, female, violent, non-violent and special- needs detainees. Staff security will be state-of-the-art, a major concern because one jailer was murdered in cold blood by an inmate.

The $1.5 million building (with some equipment costs to be added) requires a larger staff, and it will cost more. Supervisors’ President Charles Duke of District 3 said Monday annual operating costs would rise from about $440,000 this budget year to $1.04 million in the 2001 cycle, beginning Oct. 1. Then, he said candidly Lee Countians should expect a tax hike to support the operating costs.

If needed, it will be appropriate.

Juvenile crime (and the intervention to help some juveniles break free of the crime cycle) is a statewide priority in Mississippi. The state already is deeply committed to an expensive and seemingly endless prison expansion program. Adult inmate populations grow alarmingly despite a strong economy and bull market for jobs.

The next generation of adult criminals threatens to swell prison rolls more and require more investment of taxpayers’ money in a dead-end expenditure.

Cobb said she hopes the Lee County Juvenile Jail should be, in part, a place where rehabilitation begins. She’s right. If young criminals aren’t turned around, many of them will spend at least part of their lives in the nearby adult jail or in one of the state’s main prison centers.

Editorial 2

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s signing Monday of a law to certify and license physician assistants improves the possibilities for better health care statewide.

Physician assistants engage in limited medical practice under the supervision of a physician. The American Academy of Physician Assistants has about 33,300 members. Its certification standards are directly linked to a committee of the American Medical Association.

The new law enhances possibilities for improved care because it brings into statewide standing a professional designation recognized by 49 other states. Mississippi, until Monday, was the only holdout, along with the District of Columbia. The issue had been intensely debated and lobbied for several years. Many Mississippi physicians favored enactment; many nurse practitioners opposed it. Opposing sides found common ground and compromised in the 2000 session.

Physician assistants will complement nurse practitioners nurses with a master’s degree and certification in a medical speciality. About 1,000 nurse practitioners are licensed in the state. The only physician assistants working in Mississippi are in federal clinics and on U.S. military bases.

Physician assistants are required to have at least an associates degree, plus certification training. They sit for a national board exam. The American Academy of Physician Assistants says that most of its entering students hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have about 45 months of health care experience before admission. Nationwide, 120 accredited physician assistant programs offer training ranging from certificates to bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Neither the University of Mississippi School of Medicine and its affiliated schools nor other state universities offer physician assistant education. That may need to change as demand proves the need.

In Mississippi, beginning in 2004, both physician assistant and nurse practitioner applicants will be required to have master’s degrees.

The two professions perform similar medical care, including prescribing of medicine in most states, mostly under the supervision of or in collaboration with physicians.

Physician assistants nationally make good incomes. The median is $64,780.

Mississippi needs income levels like that, the education behind them, and the service that comes with them.