How Mississippi Got Right on Juvenile Justice Compliance

For years, Mississippi passed up a big share of its federal allocation under Title II of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. There are fore core requirements in the act, and states are docked 20 percent of their Title II allotment for each requirement with which they do not comply.

Mississippi would frequently miss on at least two of the four requirements: keeping status offenders out of detention, and the vast majority of juveniles out of adult jails.

But in 2012, Mississippi has come into full compliance.  So Youth Services Insider talked to Ray Sims and Zach Pattie, who handle federal juvenile justice funding and compliance for the Mississippi Division of Public Safety Planning, for an explanation of how things turned around.

Turns out, a lot was achieved through better management of the monitoring and reporting process that each state has to do to stay in compliance. Monitoring efforts had all but disappeared in the state, with about 10 of the approximately 150 facilities even giving information to Sims and Pattie.

The reports from those 10 facilities were full of misreported data that made them look worse than they really were on detaining of status offenders, jail removal and sight/sound separation.

Making the prospects of compliance even worse, Pattie explained: the numbers from that small group of reporters serve as a projection for the numbers for the 100+ that didn’t report.

Sims and Pattie said job one was to start visiting facilities and getting their home counties to report again; most were happy too, Pattie said, and simply had not been asked to do so in years. Sims could easily coerce the more resistant jurisdictions, he said, because his office controls federal money for a slew of other county services.

Job two was traveling around the state and training facility representatives to correctly develop the compliance reports. Pattie handled that himself, he said, by organizing group trainings around the state.

Job three was figuring out how to do the necessary monitoring on a thin budget, made thinner of course from years of penalties for noncompliance. To help Pattie get to all the facilities, the department paid retired law enforcement officers $16 per hour for three-day monitoring trips (two days to visit facilities, one day of paper work).

Once the state monitoring scheme was functional, Sims said, it was simply a matter of discussing compliance problems with specific judges, particularly those with a proclivity to detain homeless or runaway youth.

In a bittersweet twist for the state, Mississippi got back into compliance just in time for federal Title II funds to fall of a cliff. The minimum allocation has dropped from $600,000 to $400,000 over the past three years.

Shrinking funds for juvenile justice monitoring is a headache everywhere now, so Sims’ concept of paying former law enforcement to make facility visits is worth noting.

It prevents the need to hire part-time staffers to do it, and the officers often are well-received by facility staff. And the $16 per hour is enough that most of the officers continue to participate, reducing the need for repetitive training.

Also worth noting: Because the juvenile justice funds flow to a state agency that controls other funding, Sims appears to have more leverage than he would if all he had to barter with was juvenile justice money.

-Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor-in-Chief John Kelly

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