Many Lee countians interested in effective justice for juvenil

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials


Many Lee countians interested in effective justice for juveniles started talking about a detention center even before discussions surfaced about building a new county jail.

The jail, as pressing an issue as a juvenile detention center, eventually pushed to the front of public attention and action. Now, with the jail rising on a site north of the Tupelo Coliseum, attention again focuses on a facility to detain juvenile offenders.

Lee County’s supervisors, who purchased and operate an admittedly inadequate temporary structure for housing juvenile criminals, support the building of a $2.4 million, 54-bed facility near the new jail for adults.

Tupelo’s City Council, whose membership includes at least one of a juvenile facility’s most committed supporters, hasn’t agreed to join the effort and assure its construction. However, the success of negotiations leading to the jail’s construction and the glaring inadequacy of the temporary facility favor eventual participation.

The city and the county need to agree quickly on some formula for a division of the costs for housing juveniles. The proposed formula would have Tupelo and other municipalities sending juveniles to the facility pay by the day.

The records for the temporary detention center show Tupelo assignments to the temporary center leading all other governing units and agencies, including the Lee County Court and Lee County Sheriff’s Department. However, a new juvenile facility needs to be viewed, like the jail, as a countywide center. Costs should be fairly shared but negotiations shouldn’t bog down with one or both sides stuck in intractable positions.

Juvenile crime, in the context of a detention facility, is a countywide issue. Public officials who make fighting crime and deterrence the goal of negotiations can work through the financial details.

The Lee County Court’s successful, cooperative work with the Tupelo Police Department in using community work as part of applied juvenile justice stands on the verge of statewide adoption by the Legislature. Cooperation between the Board of Supervisors, Tupelo’s City Council, county court officials and others involved in juvenile justice could produce another model worthy of statewide use.

Other options considered for a juvenile detention facility appear inadequate. The county needs to build a facility adequate not only for current needs but at least for the early part of the 21st century. There’s no economy in refurbishing facilities that, regardless of modifications, don’t meet the need.

A new juvenile hall, as detention centers sometimes are called, is within reach of the principal users Tupelo and Lee County. Negotiations need to move forward with an attitude of openness and flexibility on both sides.

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