Harrison County

Officials: Moving Harrison County juvenile detention center could save money, benefit youth

GULFPORT -- A new contract being drafted with the company that runs Harrison County's juvenile detention facility could save the county $204,000 a year.

But moving the detention facility to the same campus as the county youth court could save an additional $240,000 and make it easier to provide services to the center's residents, Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso and Mississippi Security Police owner Nicky Maxwell told the Harrison County Board of Supervisors on Monday.

"Our first goal is putting children and services on the same campus," Alfonso said. "I can't imagine what we could do if I had my facility and my youth court staff in one spot."

Alfonso had appeared before the board in January as well, urging them to move the detention facility and also to rework the contract with Mississippi Security Police.

The average daily population of the detention facility has fallen from 22 in 2010 to nine in 2015.

In 2012, the board signed a contract agreeing to pay MSP $142,466 each month. In 2013, that was reduced to $133,333.

"Judge Alfonso and the court do a great job of moving juveniles where they need to be and out of the facility when they don't," Maxwell said. "We're not housing residents who don't need to be in the facility."

The initial contract amount allowed for a maximum of 48 residents. In 2013, that was changed to 27 and the newest contract would still provide enough staffing for up to 20 juveniles -- 11 above the daily average.

The current detention center is in Biloxi. Harrison County Youth Court is in Gulfport.

Moving both onto the same campus could save another $240,000 a year in transportation and other costs, Maxwell said. He also was in favor of moving the center.

In addition to the cost savings, Alfonso also said the detention center's young residents would benefit from being closer to services offered by county and state agencies, including counseling, access to defenders and staff that deal with abuse or neglect.

"There's so many larger issues my social workers are able to get to the bottom of," Alfonso said. "It's not just, 'did they break into the car?' It's, 'they broke into the car and what do we do to get the child back on track.' Then we can try to keep them out of the adult system. We want productive citizens, we don't want inmates."

Board members seemed to support moving the facility, but the major question is where to put it.

There are some county buildings that could become available and the Board asked Alfonso and Maxwell to evaluate whether they could be usable and present a proposal at the next board meeting.

The contract with MSP could also be approved at next week's meeting.