Budget cuts concern youth court

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Harrison County Youth Court is in turmoil after its services are facing fallout from state budget cuts.

Youth court Judge Margaret Alfonso and administrator Cindy Alexander say they have concerns about how to proceed after Youth Services for the state announced all funding for the children's ankle monitor program has been cut.

"It's a bad decision for our kids. It's a bad decision for the community that was perhaps kept safer by the use of these ankle monitors," said Alfonso.

The court issued the monitors to delinquent children as an alternative to juvenile detention. Many young people on the monitoring system have committed felonies.

"We use it very, very frequently. Our use of ankle monitors is almost always at a maximum," Alfonso said.

Alfonso was expecting more ankle monitors to be sent to the court, but the budget was cut. Now, officials will have no access to the program and no monitoring systems at all.

"Those in Jackson expect us to make a difference in the lives of children when we're losing the most effective tools that we have," she said.

Without the ankle monitors, the court will have to resort to other punitive measures.

"Either the child goes to detention, which is very costly to the tax payers, or it impacts the safety of our citizens because a child is not monitored in the community as to its location and whereabouts," said Alfonso.

Alfonso says the bracelets have been very effective in helping to deter repeat offenders. Children with the ankle monitors are still able to go to school and their jobs.

It's not the first time the youth court has had to deal with budget cuts. The department lost its Adolescent Opportunity Program in 2016. The program offered intensive probationary services to delinquent children.

"Losing AOP last year and losing this tool that we had, what's next?" added Cindy Alexander.

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