Meridian Star

May 5, 2013

Juvenile detention becoming an issue

Officials cite limited space, violence as growing problems

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Finding a place to house juveniles charged with serious crimes is getting more difficult for the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department.  There is no juvenile detention facility in Meridian or Lauderdale County, so underage offenders are sent to a facility in Rankin County.

    Sheriff Billy Sollie and Maj. Laurie Robinson, jail administrator, told the Lauderdale Board of Supervisors on Thursday that Lauderdale County juveniles who have been housed at the Rankin County Juvenile Center are having to be moved because of space issues and because of violent behavior. Robinson said although the charges that sent some of the juveniles to jail weren't for violent acts, some of them have shown violent behavior while in juvenile detention.

    "They caused a riot last weekend. Their officers were bloodied up and they jumped on other kids from Rankin County and other counties," Robinson said. "They are bad kids. That's all you can say."

    Rankin officials told Robinson last week that they would have to find alternative detention for at least five of the 15 juveniles that were housed there.

    "Every one that we have over there are felons," Robinson said. "They don't have the staff to oversee the ones that they have so they are kicking the other counties out."

    The problem of juvenile crime is growing, Sollie said, adding that there was a local youth, age 17,  charged last week who has been to Youth Court 41 times, starting when he was 10 years old.

    "By the time they reach adult status, they are not scared of the system," Sollie said.

    As of late Friday afternoon, Lauderdale County had juveniles in facilities in Scott County, Rankin County, Forrest County and Hinds County, according to Sollie.

    While ankle monitors might be an option for some offenders, others are not good candidates and, at any rate, a judge has to decide if an ankle monitor is appropriate.

    "These are repeat offenders or they have committed crimes that the judges deem that they are a menace to society," Sollie said.

    Asked about the long term problem of housing offenders, Sollie said county residents have to think about what they want.

    "If the residents of Lauderdale County want offenders removed from their neighborhoods, then the government body, i.e., Board of Supervisors, need to be concerned about additional bed space for adult and juvenile offenders," Sollie said.

    The adult population in jail is growing as well. On Jan. 1 of this year, Sollie said, the Lauderdale jail had 263 inmates; as of Thursday it had 328.