It's estimated that 60% of all crimes are committed by young people between 16 and 19 years old. And Lauderdale County officials say a growing number of those arrested are becoming repeat offenders because rehabilitation is not available.
Lauderdale County Youth Court Judge Frank Coleman says about 3 to 5 percent of the youth population here are committing crimes.
Judge Coleman and Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie agree that juvenile offenders in Mississippi are becoming repeat offenders. They place much of the blame on state budget cuts which have caused Mississippi's only long-term training school for juvenile offenders to downsize from 350 beds to 50.
"This year, between the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department and Meridian Police Department, we have incarcerated at the Lauderdale County Juvenile Center close to 600 youth," said Sollie. "Of that number, only six have been sent for long-term rehabilitative care."
"We can't hardly get a child in the training school. It takes a while," said Youth Court Judge Frank Coleman.
"So, what we're seeing today is you may have a youth with 10 or 15 felony charges, and because of the unavailability of beds, that youth is sent back into your neighborhood," said Sheriff Billy Sollie.
With long-term rehabilitation becoming increasingly more limited, Judge Coleman says Lauderdale County is using ankle bracelets to track some of the less violent juvenile offenders once they are released.
"A bunch of federal programs have cut their money," Coleman said. "So, economic times now are trickling down. So, it's going to be some lean times ahead for most counties in Mississippi."
Oakley Training School is the only juvenile justice center in Mississippi. It's run by the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Last year, its budget was cut by 40%.