City takes first step for juvenile work program

CITY OF HOUSTON FLAGHOUSTON – Kids who have the time to commit a crime in Houston will soon get time in a work program that allows them to pay their debt to society.

The Houston Board of Aldermen were presented an order from Chickasaw County Youth Court Judge Richard Bennett March 14 laying some legal ground rules that will be required before the work program is implemented.

“Judge Bennett gave us these requirements and they are rather broad and that is probably good at this point,” said Houston Mayor Stacey Parker. “This is a step in the right direction and it’s a big first step.”

Bennett’s order established the following requirements:

• Juveniles in the program must be convicted of a delinquent act.

• The juvenile must have committed the delinquent act in Houston or live in Houston.

• Juveniles in the program must be over 10-years-old.

• Juveniles will not be sentenced to less than one hour or more than 100 hours of public work.

• Juveniles will be assigned work by the City of Houston that is age appropriate.

• Juveniles will be assigned work with any public agency, individual or victim approved by the city.

• Juveniles on a work detail will be monitored by an adult at all times.

• Juveniles will not work more than two hours a day on school days.

• Juveniles will not work more than 40 hours a week or more than eight hours a day when school is not in session.

In February, aldermen said they wanted the courts and law enforcement to get tough on juvenile defenders and were willing to pay for electronic ankle monitoring bracelets, sending more serious offenders to detention and wanted a juvenile work program.

Sending youth to detention in Tupelo costs roughly $100 a day. Putting a person in an electronic ankle bracelet monitor costs $10 a day. The cost of establishing a juvenile work program will be absorbed by the Houston Police Department and Houston Public Works Department.

Houston law enforcement, Youth Court attorneys, aldermen and victims of youth crime have repeatedly been frustrated by the Chickasaw County Youth Court giving teenagers a slap on the wrist and turning them loose.

The city had initially hoped parents would be held responsible for the actions of their children and bear the cost of a fine and the cost of an electronic ankle bracelet when that program was first implemented more than a year ago.

Bennett said parents on disability, fixed income or welfare get roughly $450 a month and a $10-a-day ankle bracelet quickly eats into money for food and rent.

Bennett has repeatedly said federal and state laws dealing with juveniles limit what he can sentence a juvenile or their parents to do. Bennett has also pointed out he has no budget to pay for incarceration, ankle monitors or hiring juvenile work program officers.

Youth Court Prosecutor and Houston City Attorney Elizabeth Ausbern said both Webster and Clay county have successful programs and she hopes to take ideas from those programs and tailor one that fits Houston.

“We need to take a look at what works and iron out the details,” said Ausbern. “We can make this work.”

The city has also asked for a monthly report listing the number of ankle bracelets placed on juveniles, the number of juveniles sent to detention and the number of cases going to youth court.

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