Officials rush to find juvenile facility

Published 8:45 pm Thursday, January 24, 2013

     The impending closure of a Pike County juvenile detention center gives local authorities only a few weeks to locate a new facility to house Lincoln County’s juvenile offenders.

     The board of supervisors and Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing discussed the problem at the board’s Tuesday meeting.

     Pike County supervisors voted earlier this month to close Pike County’s juvenile detention center effective Feb. 11.

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     Facilities in Adams or Rankin counties seem to offer the closest alternatives.

     “It’s going to cost us money either way,” concluded District Three Supervisor Nolan Williamson Tuesday.

     The Pike County center is about 25 miles from Brookhaven, while the Adams County center is about 65 miles away and the Rankin County center about 80 miles.

     Rushing said transporting juveniles to either Adams or Rankin counties will involve extra transportation costs – mainly gas – and tie up deputies longer.

     Right now, the sheriff said he’s usually able to send a deputy working a normal shift to transport a juvenile to Pike County.

     The extra commuting time to either of the alternative sites would probably force Rushing to bring in a transport officer not otherwise scheduled to work, he said.

     Authorities can’t hold juveniles for any length of time in the Lincoln County jail. Rushing said has to keep them on the office side of the building so they have no contact with adult offenders.

     “Your hands are tied dealing with them now,” Rushing said, referring to regulations regarding the treatment of juveniles in custody.

     The Southern Poverty Law Center had alleged numerous violations of federal standards at the Pike County facility, triggering the decision by the county supervisors to shutter the site.

     Officials said they couldn’t afford the cost needed to ensure compliance and didn’t feel the county could prevail if a lawsuit were brought against the facility.

     Pike County has decided to send its juveniles to Adams County.

     Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop told supervisors Lincoln County had a contract with the Pike facility guaranteeing a certain number of beds would be available.

     So far, Bishop said other county facilities haven’t offered a contract

     However, Rushing said there were times no beds were available in Pike County.

     On such occasions, the sheriff said he had to utilize the juvenile centers in Adams or Rankin counties.

     The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office has to transport all juveniles arrested in the county and those taken into custody by the Brookhaven Police Department.