Editorials

Mississippi is decades behind in lifting veil of secrecy

The content of case files, like these in Harrison County Youth Court in Gulfport on May 17, 2016, is kept secret, even from attorneys who represent clients.
The content of case files, like these in Harrison County Youth Court in Gulfport on May 17, 2016, is kept secret, even from attorneys who represent clients. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

It appears the state Legislature will fail to shine much light on secretive Youth Court proceedings.

And that will hurt the very children and families such secrecy purports to protect.

The harm was well-documented in the Sun Herald’s Fostering Secrets series, which showed parents were treated unfairly and children were needlessly removed from homes.

Perhaps some of those mistakes could have been prevented, had the courts and the investigators treated the press as a willing partner rather than an adversary.

Many jurists agree.

“It is vital that the public have a good understanding of the court and confidence in the court process,” New York Chief Judge Kaye said when that state opened its courts. “The new rules have been carefully drawn to clarify that the court indeed is open, while at the same time providing safeguards for families and children.”

That was in 1997. Twenty years ago.

And now it appears it will be 21 years at least before Mississippi joins a growing number of states that have trusted the press and the public with the inner workings of this powerful system.

Out of more than two dozen bills dealing with youth courts and Child Protection Services that were filed this year, only a handful survive, and a couple of those are just housekeeping.

None would open the court to the press or public.

Such a closed system invites bad actors. Such a system hinders the watchdogs of the press, who have proven time and again to be among the people’s best protections against corruption.

And though we would prefer to have a reformed court on our side, the Sun Herald will continue to watch over the courts on the Coast, examine their dealings and listen to those who believe they’ve been wronged.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

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