CATEGORY: EDT Editorials


The Mississippi Senate's Juvenile Justice Committee waded into the state's juvenile crime problem this week with approval of a bill to create a statewide juvenile justice system.

The measure approved Tuesday by the committee would enlarge the state's role by creating 13 new youth court districts, pay for judges to administer the districts, and enhance the the post of youth court referee through better pay aimed at attracting qualified people to the positions. Pat Flynn, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike Moore, said getting referees is difficult because the pay is too low.

The heart of the proposal, which passed the Judiciary Committee Wednesday and could be voted on today by the full Senate and is subject to continuing input from people interested in juvenile justice, would create new youth court judges. The judges in the 13 new districts, coupled with the existing county court judges also serving as youth court judges, would cover about 92 percent of the currently reported juvenile crime. Uniform rules and procedures for youth courts statewide are expected to written and enacted by the Mississippi Supreme Court separate from any legislative action.

Supporters of the bill moving through the Legislature believe the end result would a more effective juvenile justice system statewide. One supporter in Northeast Mississippi believes much of the improvement would be found in smaller, rural counties currently without county judges. The youth court judges, most of whom would serve two-county or three-county districts, would have juvenile crime as their sole responsibility.

Leaders in the Senate and House made an offensive against juvenile crime a top priority for the four-year term that began last month. Strengthening the judiciary dealing with juvenile offenders is one common-sense place to start a long-term effort.

The collective wisdom of people who understand the implications of Mississippi's juvenile crime problems including crimes against juveniles should be able to build a consensus about what can be done through the courts. The Senate committees' action appears to be a strong start in the right direction.

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