In Mississippi, Youth Court Judge John Hudson is attempting to ensure that a $3,000,000 juvenile detention center built in 2001 remains relevant and useful as the face of juvenile justice changes across Mississippi and the United States.

When the facility was built, county officials expected to earn income from housing juveniles from other counties. However, as Mississippi’s commitments of juveniles to detention centers fell (in 2009, only 310 juveniles were committed, 2% of all referrals, and a decrease of 42% from the year before), the expected revenues aren’t materializing.

Adams County does have options: it can shutter the 10-year-old facility and send its juvenile offenders to a facility elsewhere, at a cost to the county of $100 per day, per inmate, plus transportation costs.

Alternatively, it can keep the facility open, providing an option for juveniles that keeps them close to their communities (a strategy which has a proven track record of increasing successful outcomes for juveniles), and then use the facility in other productive ways. The Youth Court already operates out of the facility, and non-residential treatment programs, or diversions from detention, are also hosted in the facility.

Judge Hudson is on the right track: non-residential treatment is a good alternative use of the facility, which will reduce future outlays of taxpayer dollars through reductions in recidivism and fewer costly residential stays by nonviolent juvenile offenders. This approach also ensures previous tax dollar expenditures are not squandered in an empty, but practically brand new facility. These are cost-effective, justice-minded choices in the best interest of public safety.

It is important, however, to resist the temptation to increase taxpayer outlays to the facility. The Natchez Democrat reported that the director of the facility requested increased funding for staffers. If far fewer juvenile offenders are living in the facility, however, staffing costs should be falling, not increasing.