Youth Court works for adult success stories

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 22, 2014

HOPE AND FAITH: Judge Richelle Lumpkin has implemented new programs to aide in the battle for rehabilitation of the children that come through the county’s youth court.  Jodi Marze | Picayune Item

HOPE AND FAITH: Judge Richelle Lumpkin has implemented new programs to aide in the battle for rehabilitation of the children that come through the county’s youth court.
Jodi Marze | Picayune Item

Pearl River County Court Judge Richelle Lumpkin wears many hats that she wears to fulfill her judicial responsibilities. One such responsibility is being the head of Youth Court for the county. Lumpkin is painfully aware of the cycle that children can fall into. A cycle of repeating bad choices through affiliations and substance abuse can lead them into a life of entanglement with the judicial system.

Lumpkin knows from her years of experience that some juvenile offenders cannot be reached. But there are those who can and she believes in seeking solutions to challenges.

“There are success stories,” she said. “I have had juvenile offenders come through my court as teenagers and return as adults to thank me for not giving up. There are so many that you can see the potential in them to do so much better. The joys are great but so is the pain when they turn back to drugs and give up on themselves.”

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Pearl River County ranks 8th, of 82 counties, that files the most cases with the Department of Youth Services and the Department of Human Services.

She said the county needs additional resources, such as counselors, to meet with these children on a daily or weekly basis, but we do not have the services that Forrest County or others would have.

Not one to dwell on the negatives, Lumpkin has worked to find and has acquired grants for programs that help adolescent offenders.

One of the grant-funded programs is the Mental Health Intensive Adolescent Opportunity Program (AOP). Day treatment services are directed toward assisting youth and their families to master the skills necessary to live successfully and work in the community by offering a wide range of therapeutic activities.

The program allows children placed on probation to meet with counselors on a daily basis. The children get picked up if they do not have transportation for their daily meetings, receive tutoring with homework and receive counseling.

“They get a daily dose of positive influence,” Lumpkin said. “They get to discuss any problems they are having immediately. This makes a big difference.

“We have found that if they are successful in school and graduate, they can go on to further their education through either technical or academic programs and become less likely to reoffend.”

She said it is too early to provide the results of the program, which began in October, but believes it will be a success.

Another grant-funded program is AEM. This grant pays for electronic monitoring through a grant.

“This allows us to place the children on monitoring – basically house arrest. It is conducive to the child staying in home and continuing education,” Lumpkin said.

This allows the children to receive the structure of their home environment and includes gps monitoring. It monitors zones where a child should not be.

“If another individual who also has on an ankle bracelet comes near or around the child, the area will become a prohibited zone,” Lumpkin said.

“If they get out of their zone the alarm will go off until they get back into their zone. If they run from the officer they can be heard when they are hiding.”

Beginning this year, the ankle bracelet company has hired an additional person, so the entire county can be effectively monitored. Not only can the company service the ankle bracelets, but they can go to homes if children are out after curfew. The company employs former law enforcement officers, alleviating some of the stress from local law enforcement.

The visits from ankle bracelet personnel enhance to the effectiveness of the ankle bracelets. The wearer must keep their bracelet charged. If it gets low, that could trigger a visit.

“The great thing about these programs is it isn’t costing taxpayers money. It is keeping the juveniles home and hopefully giving them an opportunity to make better decisions in the future,” Lumpkin said.