2022 Elections

JeffCo Hears About Juvenile Justice Efforts

Walter Jackson, chief deputy county manager. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The Jefferson County Commission saw an extensive presentation Tuesday morning on the entities involved with youth detention and the juvenile justice system.

After hearing about rehabilitation, recidivism and the humanity of the young people in the system, commissioners learned that they’ll have to tune in next time to find out what’s being sought monetarily.

“We didn’t come here to talk about money today,” Chief Deputy County Manager Walter Jackson said. “We need you to understand what the challenge is. We’re going to provide that to the county manager, and he’ll provide it to the commission.”

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the county has $12 million committed to building a new facility for juvenile detention. Jackson said support is being sought from other governmental entities.

“The responsibility of youth detention rests with the commission,” Jackson said. “All I want to do today is talk about the various roles and responsibilities and jurisdictions. If we don’t collaborate, we can’t be effective in terms of any money we spend.”

The chief deputy county manager said laws regarding the confidentiality of minors keeps the various participants in juvenile justice aware of how one might impact another.

Commissioners heard from Janine Hunt-Hilliard, presiding judge of Jefferson County Family Court; Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasley, chief adolescent medicine and vice chair of pediatrics at UAB; Monique Grier, director of youth detention; Patrick Pendergast, deputy director of the Alabama Department of Youth Services; Terry Roller, assistant superintendent of the Alabama State Department of Education, and Brandon Johnson, policy director for Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

Commissioner Joe Knight asked whether the juvenile justice system has produced successes? Absolutely, Grier said, adding that confidentiality keeps her from giving too many specifics.

“We just had one that graduated and just had another finish his credits through credit recovery while in juvenile detention,” she said. “He has now met the requirements to graduate, and your honor (Hunt-Hilliard) has afforded him the opportunity to graduate with his class. There are some powerful stories that have come as a result of the things that we do.”

But Commissioner Sheila Tyson noted the clear cases that have not been wins, which can be seen nightly on television news.

“I see it every single day because of where I live,” Tyson said. “I see it within the school system. We’re either going to fix it now and bear our responsibility or we’re gonna pay dearly later. And I ain’t planning on paying later.

“It’s a state of emergency,” she continued. “These children. It’s stemming from the home and it goes back to mental health. But it’s our responsibility.”

In another matter, former county commissioner George Bowman spoke to commissioners, seeking $100,000 from Jefferson County for Tri-County Veteran Services and the Moton Community Center in Leeds. The director of operations for the nonprofit Priority Soldiers said his group is seeking $50,000 from Shelby County and $50,000 from St. Clair County.

“In the global war on terror, we’ve lost 7,054 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to death by combat,” Bowman said. “In that very same time period, we have lost 30,177 to suicide.”