The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing to discuss the possibility of enacting a juvenile curfew within the county.
Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Brett Watson presented a potential curfew plan to the board Monday. He gained inspiration for the ordinance after examining multiple juvenile curfews across the state and said he believes the plan will help diminish some of the juvenile misconduct in the area.
“We at the sheriff’s department are looking at this as a way to encounter these folks that are out walking late at night when they shouldn’t be,” Watson said. “It’ll give us an opportunity to encounter them in a legal way.”
The public hearing will be 6 p.m. June 7 in the Oktibbeha County Courthouse. Anyone is welcome to attend and give their input.
The curfew plan Watson created states that all individuals under the age of 18 will be required to be inside from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight-6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. College-aged students that are 17 are exempt from this ordinance, and District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery suggested requiring 18-year-olds that are still in high school to follow the curfew.
If someone is found breaking curfew, they will have the option of either receiving a fine or performing community service, Watson said. Fine amounts increase with each violation.
There have been several violent crimes in the area over the last few weeks involving teenagers. Two teenagers were arrested last month for the murder of James Clifton Hester Files in a fatal shooting on Easter Sunday. Five Columbus men, including a 17-year-old, were arrested for gambling and shooting in McKee Park less than two weeks ago.
Watson said while a county curfew will not eliminate crime involving juveniles completely, he believes it will help it to decline.
“This situation is multifaceted,” Watson said. “No one solution is going to solve this problem. This is certainly not going to solve this. It’s just a tool in the tool box.”
Board Attorney Rob Roberson praised Watson’s plan and said he feels it’s the proper curfew for the county.
“I thought this was very well thought out,” Roberson said. “Any issues that I would have had, he addressed before I even asked him.”
The city of Starkville will also discuss enacting a juvenile curfew at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.
The board also discussed the issues involving crime that have been happening in the area and discussed some potential solutions on how to alleviate the violence from continuing.
District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer said he believed the county should create children’s programs and provide “parent training” programs for parents and guardians. He said the problem is county officials always try to help children after they are already in trouble. If they can get children involved in activities from the beginning, he argued, they will be less likely to commit crimes.
“We need to go ahead and invest in some programs,” Trainer said. “We won’t have enough money for the defense. We need to invest in programs on the front end because we won’t be able to afford the back end.”
Youth Court Judge Lydia Quarles presented the idea of a juvenile detention center to the board. While the closest detention center for minors is in Columbus, that facility only houses a handful of people, forcing many of the juveniles to be sent to centers far off, such as Hattiesburg or Alcorn. If a juvenile center was created in Oktibbeha County, those individuals could stay here, allowing them access to more programming and treatment, she said.
“It’s not like jail,” Quarles said. “It’s there to protect a child from themselves, protect them from others and protect our community. In a lot of ways, these children will be protected from other children who have guns.”
Both Starkville Police Chief Mark Ballard and Mayor Lynn Spruill have also discussed the potential of creating a juvenile detention center. District 5 Supervisor and Board President Joe Williams said he would be interested in partnering with the city to fund and create a center in the area.