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Cutting juvenile delinquent ankle bracelet program ‘disastrous,’ judge says

Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alphonso talks to Mississippi Department of Human Services caseworkers before their session on May17, 2016 in Gulfport. Now, she says 2017 state budget cuts that failed to fund ankle bracelets for delinquents is a disaster.
Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alphonso talks to Mississippi Department of Human Services caseworkers before their session on May17, 2016 in Gulfport. Now, she says 2017 state budget cuts that failed to fund ankle bracelets for delinquents is a disaster. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

Ankle bracelets used to monitor juvenile delinquents with a criminal background are falling by the wayside in the latest round of state budget cuts.

At any given time, the whereabouts of 12 juvenile defendants under house arrest in Harrison County are tracked by ankle monitors. The 12 are at-risk young people deemed a safety issue to the community, who have been allocated to Harrison County Youth Court to keep an eye on.

Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso said she had never imaged the program would be cut out, but she received a call “out of the blue” Friday.

“It’s disastrous,” Alfonso said, “and another blow to Youth Court efforts to get the attention of juveniles and protect the public.

“Some of these delinquents have (committed) very serious crimes, from auto burglary to home invasion.”

Alfonso learned of the cut in a phone call from state Director of Youth Services Jim Maccarone, she said. His office operates under the state Department of Human Services.

Maccarone told the Sun Herald he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.

DHS spokesman Paul Nelson could not immediately be reached for comment.

An ankle monitor costs $10 per day, Alfonso said.

“I can assure you the cost of an ankle bracelet is substantially less per day than it would be to detain delinquents,” she said.

“Some of these delinquents have one foot in Oakley and one foot in Parchman,” Alfonso said. She was referring to Oakley Youth Development Center, which is a juvenile detention center for DHS, and the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

The ankle-bracelet monitoring system allows young people to go to school and to work if they have a part-time job. The system tracks delinquents’ location and if they go out of bounds, a person who monitors the system speaks to them and warns them to go home. It also alerts Youth Court, youth court administrator Cindy Alexander said.

“I agree with the judge,” she said. “We need this program.”

Alfonso said she has not been told when the tracking monitor program will be discontinued.

The “other blow” Alfonso referred to is a budget cut last year that disbanded the Adolescent Opportunity Program, an intensive probation service for young people.

“That left ankle bracelets as our last resort,” she said.

“Ankle bracelets give delinquents a taste of confinement and show them there are consequences for their actions.

“Now we have lost another effective tool in the fight to combat juvenile delinquency.”

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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