New fence ordered after juveniles escape detention center

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A rusty section of chain link fence enabled two teenagers to escape from the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center on Wednesday night.

Police are still looking for the two boys, ages 16 and 17. And the county has issued an emergency order to replace the chain link fence.

The escape marks the second disruptive incident at the youth facility in the past two weeks.  You'll recall that early last week the detention center was placed in lockdown after a 17 year old became enraged.

Despite that double trouble, the Board of Supervisors' president says staffing and facilities at the center are adequate.

"So, if you're able to get one and compromise it, it takes just a matter of seconds to rip down and you're through it. Enough for these two young men to slide through it," said supervisor Windy Swetman, as he shook a section of chain link fence near the hole the escapees wiggled through.

There were five juveniles in the exercise yard during Wednesday night's break out.  One climbed the fence at the opposite end of the yard, an apparent diversion.

"Bring your attention all the way to that corner, dealing with that one, that allowed the other two to exit through that hole they had obviously planned," said Swetman.

The escape hole has been repaired.

"Obviously, the integrity of this fence has been compromised," said Swetman, who has a background in law enforcement.

"From the general appearance the fence looked fine. But if you started to actually manipulate the fence and started working it, you could see where it was brittle in places. If you start to twist it and turn it, as these juveniles obviously figured out, you could see where it could be broken," said the board of supervisors president.

This is the second disruptive incident there in two weeks.  Steel plates have been welded beside door locks to prevent the kind of tampering that happened last week when a 17 year old used a piece of toothbrush to open a locked door.

The escape means it's time for a new fence.

"Have authorized an emergency order today to come back in with new chain link fencing, all the way around this facility, to make sure it doesn't happen again," says Swetman.

Swetman says one long term goal he'd like to see is to close the juvenile detention center in Biloxi and move it to a centralized facility in Gulfport, where the Harrison County Youth Court is already located.

"I do believe the staffing and facilities are adequate. We're not running a maximum security prison in our juvenile detention. We do have room for improvement. And we are looking at the future," he said.

Supervisor Swetman said there will be a meeting Monday to discuss the juvenile facility and youth offender programs. That meeting was already scheduled before these two incidents occurred. The discussion will involve supervisors, the youth court judge and the private security firm that operates the juvenile detention center.

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