Harrison County chosen for juvenile justice project - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Harrison County chosen for juvenile justice project

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

Harrison County is moving forward with a project to reduce the number of juvenile offenders being locked up. And the county is about to get some expert help from a national foundation that deals with juvenile offenders and their families.

Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso briefed county supervisors on the initiative at Monday's board meeting. Experts from the Annie E. Casey Foundation will be here next month, working on plans to reduce the number of youngsters behind bars in Harrison County.

"What they're coming to Harrison County for in particular is juvenile detention issues and improving the detention policies and practices. And I know you are all keenly aware of the concerns in that area and the progress we've made," Judge Alfonso told the board.

She told supervisors the foundation will provide some much-needed expertise and support to further reduce the number of juveniles put behind bars.

The judge and those who deal with juvenile offenders say incarceration should be a last resort.

"Our numbers have come down in detention, but that's tough. We went from housing 40 plus juveniles in detention to staying under 20 now. But every day is a struggle with that number. The judge has done a great job on her end," said Supervisor Windy Swetman.

"It is really going to be a great day for the children of Harrison County in terms of our youth court improvements," said Judge Alfonso.

The judge says experts with the foundation will help develop plans to thoroughly assess youngsters who may normally be headed for confinement and find appropriate alternatives that will keep them from simply being locked-up.

"We may be able, using their expertise, to divert some of these children to a less restrictive environment, which of course is wonderful for the child, the child's family and also great savings to the taxpayer," she explained.

"All the alternatives they can bring us, we're saving children's lives. Incarceration is no place for a child to be and we don't want them incarcerated. We want to give them a chance so they can be productive citizens," said Swetman.

Based in Baltimore, Maryland, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has been working since 1948 to help build better lives for disadvantaged children in the United States. Representatives from the organization will be in Harrison County at the end of February.

Copyright 2012 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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