HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A grand jury has released its findings on the condition and operation of the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center. While the report pointed to several positive changes, it also made some recommendations to improve services for young offenders, including moving the facility to a new location.
The grand jury found that the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center is, "clean, well maintained, and expertly managed" and it has innovative, diversion programs. The report also pointed to areas that need some improvement, like providing more shade in the recreation area, and starting an outreach program for donations to support recreation and technology.
The grand jury also recommended relocating the center closer to youth court "for safety reasons in transporting juvenile offenders and for closer placement to their advocates". It's a proposal Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso has been fighting for since 2010.
"I sometimes feel we have, what's the expression, one hand tied behind us with the facility in Biloxi," said Judge Margaret Alfonso.
Right now, young offenders are housed at the Juvenile Detention Center, which is located on Delauney Street in downtown Biloxi. They have to be transported to Youth Court in Gulfport to attend hearings or to meet with their counselors and youth court staff. That's a 30 minute trip that sometimes requires additional officers.
"There's a tremendous cost in transporting the kids back and forth from Biloxi, not to mention the liability to the county having these kids on the road back and forth," said Alfonso.
Judge Alfonso proposes tearing down the old "Daytime Detention Facility" behind Youth Court, and building a new Juvenile Detention Center on the same property.
"They are separated from the services. If we were all here on one campus, it would lend itself to much more effective services for kids. It is vital that the building be constructed where the services are. This is where our kids need to be. This is where we can put them on the right track," she said.
"You form that relationship with them, because sometimes they may not have mentors. So they just need that support and someone to guide them, and that's what we should be doing every day, several times a day," said Youth Court Administrator Cindy Alexander.
Judge Alfonso said having the young offenders and services all under one roof will save the county money in other ways.
"I don't think it has to be a big structure. I think it would be 25 beds at the maximum. I think it would be much more cost effective in terms of maintenance, in terms of utilities. This is an expensive structure, because it's old," she said.
More importantly, Alfonso said it will allow her staff to work closely with the children to help them get back to school.
On September 14, Judge Alfonso will be touring a new juvenile facility in Covington, Louisiana, to get some ideas. She will present her findings to the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. She also plans to invite the candidates for the board of supervisors to tour both facilities to see the need to move the Juvenile Detention Center.