Commission Examines Youth Court System

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To make sure all three branches of state government are on the same page, the Commission on Children's Justice held its final public hearing Thursday.

It brought together judicial, foster care and educational sectors to get a better understanding of what happens when juveniles face the state's judicial process.

"We want to make sure that every child in Mississippi, when he or she has an experience with our court system that we make sure that the best interest of that child is protected," said Supreme Court Justice Randy Pierce.

Pierce says it's a proactive approach in realizing the role and impact the justice system has on the state's youth, whether directly or indirectly.

"There are so many components to this and we're just getting our arms around it," Pierce said.

And for the many children who are currently at risk, it's about intervention.

"If there's no intervention sometimes we don't get them back on track," said Court of Appeals Judge Virginia Carlton.

From those in foster care, to those in detention centers, Prior says too often those groups go hand in hand.

"Oftentimes kids are considered what they consider dual jacketed. That means, yes, they are often in foster care as well as they are part of the juvenile justice system and so we do find that trend," said Virginia Prior of Casey Family Programs.

Prior says the trend only spikes with older youth.

Adams County Youth Court Judge John Hudson is helping to lead the charge of making sure the right youth are in detention centers.

"Unfortunately in the past, a lot of youth have been in detention that are there for what we call status offenses which is like truancy, running away or things of that sort," said Hudson. "We want to make sure we get those kids out of detention centers and focus on the kids that really pose a risk to society."

To make any of it work, Prior says there needs to be a cohesive effort and focus.

"First and foremost it's going to take an extensive amount of communication with all systems," said Prior.

The commission was created six years ago by the Mississippi Supreme Court. With this final public hearing, a report of recommendations will be prepared and then presented to the state's judicial system.