Elissa's Story

photography by Sarah Fleming for the Juvenile Project

photography by Sarah Fleming for the Juvenile Project

“I talk to a lot of kids who couldn't tell me who their lawyer was in court, or they didn't have a very clear understanding of what happened in court or what the outcome was and what it means, and obviously, that's concerning, because we have to make sure that kids do understand the process and their right to counsel looks the same as what we would expect in an adult court system.”

Elissa Johnson is a senior staff attorney at the Mississippi Office of the Southern Poverty Law Center. In this interview, she gives an overview of what the juvenile justice system looks like in the state of Mississippi.

Interview with Elissa Johnson, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on Feb 04, 2017 at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Jackson, MS.

Joann:   I want to start off ... So, tell me your name and your position, and where we are.

Elissa Johnson:  My name is Elissa Johnson. I'm a senior staff attorney at the Mississippi Office of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Joann:   Awesome, so tell me a little bit about your personal background of what led you up to this position here.

Elissa Johnson:  I've been interested in social justice for as long as I can remember, and went to law school at Loyala University, Chicago, and did a joint GED and Masters in Social Work Program, and during law school I had the opportunity to intern with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and then returned to this office after I graduated for a fellowship.

Joann:   I'm going to raise the levels just a little bit, because we are just a tiny bit low.

Elissa Johnson:  I can talk louder too.

Joann:   No, you're fine. You talk however you feel comfortable, so you got the internship before you got involved with ... Had you been involved with the National Juvenile Justice Network?

Elissa Johnson:  That was after ...

Joann:   You did start talking about [crosstalk 00:01:14].

Elissa Johnson:  Sorry. [inaudible 00:01:19]

Joann:   You're fine, so I cannot remember my question, but you can answer it.

Elissa Johnson:  I became involved with the National Juvenile Justice Network after I was working at SPLC as a fellow, or maybe I was staff attorney at the time, but I think in 2013 I had the opportunity to participate in their Youth Justice Leadership Institute, which was a year long leadership development program.

Joann:   Awesome.

Speaker 3: [crosstalk 00:02:03] So ...

Joann:   I've already started the interview.

Speaker 3: Oh, I'm sorry.

Joann:   It's okay.

Speaker 3: I'm going to take a [inaudible 00:02:14]

Joann:   No, because it will mark it, but that's okay. At what point during your study ... You obviously said you had a social work degree, and then you were also getting GED at the same time; what was it that prompted you to go in that direction in particular? I know I read that you had had some experiences in high school that kind of led you in that direction. I just wanted to see if you could talk a little bit about that. Had you had, specifically, had experiences with people who had been involved in the justice system?

Elissa Johnson:  I have. I participated in some programs during high school, just in terms of leadership programs. I worked at a camp that was kind of centered around diversity. One of the years that I was on staff, kids had been court ordered to attend camp as part of a condition of their probation, and so that was an opportunity to really work with kids, even on a limited time frame, who had been involved with the Juvenile Justice System, and I had worked with youth throughout college, and so I was interested in juvenile justice and child welfare at that time, primarily, and went to Loyala University of Chicago specifically because they have a child law program, and so I had the opportunity to participate in some unique experiences and clinical opportunities because of that program.

Joann:   In Chicago?

Elissa Johnson:  Mm-hmm (affirmative)?

Joann:   What were ... Since you've been out of school and actually working in the field, can you talk a little bit about the evolution of your perspective on juvenile justice? From the time that you were an intern and to now?

Elissa Johnson:  I think that, as an intern, it was the first opportunity to work on what you would call impact litigation, so it is a class action case around conditions of confinement in a juvenile detention center, and prior to that point, my primary interest had been in juvenile defense. That is what I pictured myself; that I would be a public defender or represent kids who were involved in the justice system in some way. I found the conditions were really interesting, because kids are in facilities, and the trauma that is exacerbated and that they experience ... The primary purpose of our juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate children. That is why we separated it from our adult criminal justice system, so when they are in an environment that is inherently dangerous and isn't offering them positive opportunities for rehabilitation, when they are released, they are going back into communities, and they have no better skills and resources in order to hopefully not end up in the same situation.

Joann:   Can you talk ... Kind of give me an overview of what Mississippi looks like from the point of view of just what the juvenile justice system looks like in the state; how that plays out county to county and in individual jurisdictions. You don't have to give me specifics about every single county, but tell me what the overall system looks like in the state.

Elissa Johnson:  Yeah, in Mississippi we refer to our juvenile justice system or the court system as youth court. Kids come in. They can come into the juvenile justice system as young as, sometimes, eleven or twelve. Typically, they are at least thirteen, and so we don't have a true State Department of Juvenile Justice, and so in terms of detention, detention is operated by each individual county that has a detention center. There either is a youth court judge or a youth court referee who oversees any delinquency or abuse and neglect matters.

In terms of dispositional options for kids who go through the juvenile justice who are adjudicated delinquents there are a variety of dispositions. They can be put into a juvenile detention center for ninety days. They can be sent to our state training school, which is called the Oakleigh Training School, and that is indeterminate sentencing, so there is a program, depending on the score and different points that they go through. Kids are typically there for about four to nine months, depending, and over the years the offenses in which can result in a commitment to Oakleigh have become more severe, so currently, you have to have a felony adjudication in order to be sent to Oakleigh, but we realized that the kids that need that kind of out of home, out of community, commitment, obviously we want to reserve that for kids who have committed the most serious offenses.

Some jurisdictions have ankle monitoring. Until about a year ago, most of the jurisdictions in the state had some form of a community based program that was often referred to as an AOP, so Adolescent Opportunity Programs that was kind of after school; similar to what other jurisdictions use in terms of an evening reporting systems; late afternoon, early evening hours, and students may start out going to those programs every day. As they progress and move through the program, they maybe only have to go three days, and then two days, and then one day, so it's kind of a stair step down. Throughout the process, in our juvenile justice system, we also have the roll of youth court counselor, and that is a state employee by our Division of Youth Services and under our DHS umbrella. They are very similar to probation officers. That is the easiest way to compare them to what you would see in other jurisdictions, and so they are going to make a recommendation to the judge about the disposition; monitor the child if there is an issue of a violation of a term of probation or release. They would be person who might bring that to the judge or the District Attorney's attention.

Joann:   Could you describe what the intake process looks like vis a vis who actually conducts the intake assessment and if it's the same person as the youth counselor. At what point are they referred to as counselor?

Elissa Johnson:  The process varies by county. It is the youth court judge who designates the intake officer. Sometimes that person may be ... Often it is another employee of the youth court, depending upon the time of day of the intake, and in some jurisdictions there is a risk assessment instrument, so before that child is detained, they are going to go through a questionnaire of some type of instrument and determine whether the risk of that child re-offending, not returning to court, warrants detention.

We don't have a state wide risk assessment instrument, so that doesn't exist in all of our counties. By law, kids have to have a detention hearing if they are held in detention within forty eight hours, but that excludes weekends and holidays, and so often it doesn't really happen exactly within forty eight hours, especially if a kid comes in on a Friday, it's probably going to be at least Monday, possibly Tuesday, before they are able to go to court; in many counties, again, because it varies so much county by county. When they go to court, that will be their opportunity in which they met with the public defender. They may have an opportunity to meet with the public defender before they go into court, but that would be where they typically interact with counsel for the first time.

Joann:   You mentioned that up until last year there were more AOP programs. What happened?

Elissa Johnson:  

There were funding cuts that resulted in the ... Some of the counties have tried to keep those programs continuing in some form or fashion, but the state and federal money that was being used, there was some shift in the grants and how certain federal grant money can be used, and my understanding is that that resulted in a lot of those programs being discontinued.

Joann:   You talked about post disposition options for children who are an adjudicated delinquent. You mentioned yesterday something about that a lot of time the mental health institutions were considered to be kind of an option for where you could go, instead of having to go to a training school or going ...

Elissa Johnson:  Right, sometimes children, in addition to being an adjudicated delinquent, and [inaudible 00:11:38] the more traditional youth court, we also have, as many states do, a kind of a child in need of supervision, or need of services, and sometimes, also as a youth court, as a result of an adjudication, they might receive mental health treatment, might be referred to substance abuse. We have juvenile drug courts in some jurisdictions. Some kids can also be civilly committed, and so sometimes a child may come into the youth court system as a result of an alleged delinquent act, and through the process of figuring out what happened and looking into it, the court may determine that civil commitment is needed in order to provide that child with the appropriate mental health services.

We have various mental health services across the state in terms that are ... We call call them PRTS; Psychiatric Treatment Residential Facilities, and so sometimes children are sent there. They might be sent there for some limited time, because there is an acute issue of mental health. They need to be stabilized on their medication or any of those types of issues, and then they will go back to a detention center and continue on with the timeline of being adjudicated and placed and given a specific disposition.

Joann:   Could you talk about the interface; how the juvenile system interfaces with the public school system, and then also how it interfaces with the child protective services. You mentioned DHS, but I'm thinking more along the trajectory of kids who have been in and out of foster, as well as how the systems of the schools and juvenile system ... What is the typical referral rate that you are getting outside of law enforcement to the juvenile system, and if you are getting referrals related to child protective services, and how that works?

Elissa Johnson:  Unfortunately, like many other states in the country, we do have an issue with the school to prison pipeline, and kids being sent from the school system for incidents that were historically completely handled in school are now resulting in referrals to the juvenile justice system for something; a fight at school, possibly getting upset with a teacher. Any of those typical examples ... One of the most infamous examples in Mississippi; the department of justice investigate Lauderdale County, Mississippi, which is about an hour and a half from here, because there were really significant issues of kids being transported directly from school to the youth court. Kids who were on probation for an offense that maybe happened outside of school, if they got in trouble at school and were suspended, they were having to serve the term of that suspension in detention.

This has been several years ago that the juvenile detention center in Lauderdale County, Mississippi, has since closed, and those kids are transported to a different county when any kids from that county are detained, but the rate of referral from school varies greatly by jurisdiction, but it's an ongoing issue that at the Southern Poverty Law Center we have addressed and looked at in various ways around community education and advocacy because of the reality that kids committing typical, adolescent ... How many of us got into some type of fight or some disciplinary issue at school, and it was just that? Getting pulled into a system that could result in detention and potential other unintended consequences doesn't really serve our youth and families the way the juvenile justice was intended to.

Joann:   Did you want to address any of the child protective service's issues, or is that something...?

Elissa Johnson:  In some instances, there's status offenses, which are offenses which would not be a crime if committed by an adult, and typically, those offenses should not result in detention, but sometimes you have young people who might be in foster care. There might be issues going on at home, and they may run away or defy a parent, and if they are on probation, that can get them deeper into the youth court system, the juvenile justice system. Our child welfare system, there is separate litigation and a consent decree involving that right now. There is a need for more of a continuum of services.

We don't have specialized foster care and group homes at the rate we need them and training, so I have had kids that I've met in detention who were in detention because of a charge of an assault on their case worker, and it was an argument that they got bad news, and they were upset by it. That resulted in them acting out. Sometimes the need to really look at when kids get bad news, and that their reactions, although needing some intervention, whether the appropriate intervention is the court system, and it's not. It's an understanding of how various trauma and experiences have impacted that child and the services that are really needed to help that child in order for a better way to respond, for the appropriate supports that they need and the like.

Joann:   You mentioned a [inaudible 00:17:40] the SPLC has been working on. Is that state wide or is that just in certain detention centers by county?

Elissa Johnson:  Historically, SPLC has been involved in litigation in various counties throughout regarding the conditions of confinement in county detention centers, as well as we were involved in litigation involving the state training school. We were class counsel in those. Those are each separate lawsuits, because there is not a state system. There is a monitoring, a state monitoring unit, and as of last year, there was legislation passed that now requires detention facilities to be licensed, but that is still getting up and going and so they would have to meet certain minimum standards; the same way that we would require of daycare centers or other types of facilities, and so hopefully facilities will be fully licensed within the next year or so, and there will be some statewide minimum standards that really ensure that when kids are in out of home care that they are getting appropriate services, even sometimes as it relates to education, the education services in detention are not nearly the same as going to school.

You are not getting ... It is not a full day of school. There is a required number of minutes that kids have to attend school, even in detention, but there is one teacher for kids who are in a variety of grades, who maybe, depending on the facility, have even come from a variety of different school districts, so it's kind of a logistical issue in making sure that those kids are getting their work, the work is getting to the district. You have kids that are in detention who have special education needs. They need additional support, so it's trying to figure out how can we serve kids best in the community and keep them away from some of these obstacles and barriers that make integrating back into their communities more difficult. We've worked over the years to point out that detention is expensive. Counties that don't have facilities sometimes pay a hundred or more dollars per day, per child, to detain that child.

When you look at all of the research and all of the continuum of services that other jurisdictions use, there are other much more cost efficient and effective programs that help kids stay in their communities, and thinking about family integration and re-entry; Mississippi has eighty two counties, and I believe there are sixteen county juvenile detention centers in this state, so that means most kids, if they are detained, they are not being detained in their home communities, so then you have the added obstacle of parents being able to visit, counsel being able to visit because their public defender is going to be ... If they have hired an attorney, that attorney is most likely going to be based where they are from, so how do you communicate, how are they able to engage with their family? Those types of issues create a unique barrier in a state like Mississippi that is primarily rural, unlike other states where there is a detention center in almost every county, or in closer proximity.

Joann:   What kind of challenges are y'all facing in terms of gender specific services?

Elissa Johnson:  I think similar to most places, unfortunately there is not a lot of services for girls in detention, and the easiest way to explain it is population. Some of the county facilities, just to give you an idea of typical population capacity, most of them are high twenties, low thirties; that is their cap. We are not talking about huge facilities, and sometimes they have no girls or one girl, and so when you think of staffing and just even their interaction, a lot of times I've done visits where the young woman is the only girl, and so she is just like, "There's nobody, really, to interact with," even when she goes outside for recreation, unless some of the officers are going to engage with her.

The programming that she is involved with, there is not as much opportunity, and typically, youth are separated for programming in facilities, and so it is not like ... In some instances in the education environment that is not the case, but it is not like she is going over to the boys [inaudible 00:22:37] for the group. If there is a volunteer that comes in, it is a completely different interaction, so that is a struggle everywhere. How do we also address the unique needs of young women in juvenile detention? Oftentimes there is a much higher rate of trauma and physical or sexual abuse that have resulted in them being in detention, so making sure that they're receiving the appropriate services to address those concerns.

Joann:   Are there other sub populations that you have identified who's needs are grossly under met? You mentioned kids with special needs in terms of their, I'm sure, in terms of their school and IEP's, but also children with disabilities or LGBTQ; different kinds of sub populations that are typically harder to serve and fewer representation in terms of who is in the system. Has anything come up that you've seen?

Elissa Johnson:  Yeah, our work across the state has tried to focus in on where we identify issues with a certain ... We get requests for assistance, or if we are working at a detention center, there may be a certain issue regarding policy specifically as it relates to LGBTQ youth, it's thinking about does the facility have a policy and have training that maybe it is not even waiting for a child to come through, but just as you are looking at the policies, procedures, staff training issues, and what is the national standard; what is in place, what exists, and so sometimes we might have conversations with jurisdictions or give them a model policy from another jurisdiction and have conversations around training and opportunities.

One of the good things about Mississippi is that our detention center has gotten better over the years. It has decreased. That has been something that we have wanted to continue to work to de-incarcerate youth. Children don't belong in detention facilities by and large, and in Mississippi, our youth court system, kids who are committing the more serious offenses, they are already in the adult court. The kids that are coming into the youth court system, it's assault, it's a charge called disturbing the family peace, burglary, larceny, trespassing, vandalizing; those kind of very typical adolescent offenses, I would say probably burglary and assault are the more serious of what ends up in youth court, but if there is a ... Obviously our homicide rate and those more serious offenses, most of them automatically in adult court, so those kids aren't even passing through our juvenile justice system.

Joann:   Talk about the age of jurisdiction. You've mentioned eleven, twelve, or thirteen, as being the kind of minimum age. Talk about what the state age is in terms of jurisdiction for the juvenile court, and you've talked about some of the offenses that are automatic transfers ...

Elissa Johnson:  Offenses with firearms ... In Mississippi, as young as thirteen, you can automatically be in adult court, so if you are involved in a homicide offense and you are thirteen, you are automatically in adult court. We do have a statute that does allow for reverse waivers, so jurisdiction back to the youth court. However, that is not something that is used frequently. We're almost five years out from the Supreme Court case that prohibited mandatory life without parole, even for homicide offenses in Mississippi. We had, I think, somewhere, between eighty and a hundred juvenile life without parole kids that were serving time, and so as we look at the ages of those kids, and there were kids who were sentenced to life with parole, because that is parole ... Sorry, murder is not a parole eligible sentence in Mississippi after 1995, and so a lot of the folks who are serving juvenile life without parole, that was the only sentence available to them, was life, so we have fourteen, fifteen year olds that were sentenced to life.

Another common offense that results in automatic transfer is armed robbery, and so in our armed robbery statute, it has recently undergone some changes, but there are kids that you might, again, get fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years for armed robbery, and again, that is not going to be eligible for parole, so kids are going to serve that day for day, and so when you think about kids who are getting those very long sentences; our juvenile justice system that has more opportunities for rehabilitation, like I mentioned, you can only be in a county detention center for up to ninety days, and then we have Oakleigh, which is our other more long term disposition option. Obviously keeping the kids in the youth court system is important, because it addresses their needs as kids, understanding adolescent development instead of throwing them into an adult system.

Currently in Mississippi, there is a special unit in which all kids who are convicted as adults go until they are eighteen, and so they are still segregated from the population once they enter MDOC custody, but, obviously, in their counties jails they are siting and potentially waiting for months or even over a year before they go to trial and their cases are resolved. They may either be kept in solitary in a county jail. They might be put in with everybody else. Obviously, each of those presents unique challenges and concerns around the safety and wellbeing, and even in the county detention centers where we have filed suit, one of the issues has been that there is not sufficient rehabilitative programming, as required by the constitution, and that kids are, in some of the facilities they were in their cells twenty plus hours a day, and you cannot keep fourteen year olds, fifteen year olds ... Just kids, period, in cells, hours upon hours, not offering them any opportunity for productive programming, not engaging them, not providing services; it doesn't meet constitutional standards.

Joann:   If they are sent to Oakleigh or if they are under the supervision of the juvenile jurisdiction, what is the oldest age that they can be?

Elissa Johnson:  Seventeen, which is ... That was due to a law change, I guess, maybe four or five years ago now, so prior to that, all seventeen year olds were automatically in the adult system, but we changed the law and brought seventeen year olds back into the youth system, so now unless they commit one of those serious offenses or they have previously been transferred to adult court, they are considered children, because previously, they got a misdemeanor. If they were seventeen and got a misdemeanor then they were in adult court. That doesn't help that child that's probably getting ready either for college or to find a job, finish school, when you think about how an adult conviction, even a misdemeanor, can potentially interfere with opportunities, and so those kids were brought back into the youth court system.

Joann:   So even if they commit some sort of a misdemeanor crime or even a status offense or what have you, if it is under the age of ... It two months before their eighteenth birthday, they would be held until their eighteenth birthday, but if it was a misdemeanor, if it was something that would have been considered when they turn eighteen, are they are just transferred from the youth facility over to the adult facility? How does that work? Or does it just end at eighteen, and then they are free to go?

Elissa Johnson:  It depends on the timing and the county. Some kids, depending, if it is something minor, they may be on probation and their probation may continue. Technically, Oakleigh can house kids up to their twentieth birthday, as long as they are ... The disposition is obviously prior to their eighteenth, but they can be housed there after their eighteenth birthday.

Joann:   Okay, that is what I was thinking. You mentioned solitary, can you talk about some of the specific violations you see in terms of the conditions of care? Shackling, that kind of thing, is that a set standard and operation in a lot of ... ?

Elissa Johnson:  Yeah, the use of restraints is common in most of the counties in which we've had litigation. That has been part of our consent decree, is to limit the use of both mechanical and chemical restrains, so for instance, in one jurisdiction, when we started investigating, kids had to attend school in shackles. The school was in a separate, a portable. They had to to technically leave the building; go down one set of steps and then walk up into a portable, and so they would attend school in shackles, and so that was one of the conditions, that kids cannot attend school in shackles. Obviously making sure that kids are not locked in cells in handcuffs or shackles, even when kids are transported off of site, there should be requiring of some risk of escape before kids are automatically placed in restraints. Some facilities across the state use mace. Obviously, we discourage that. Some of our consent decrees and settlement agreements have tried to limit that, or it requires approval.

Joann:   When you said chemical restraints, you meant mace?

Elissa Johnson:  Mm-hmm (affirmative) Like OC spray and mace. There are instances where kids have been maced for minor violation. I mean talking back. A child in a cell being maced. They are of no risk of harm to themselves or others. The officer is not in any danger, but just, almost, in a very punitive manner is using OC spray.

Joann:   You mentioned that training of facility staff, and you also mentioned yesterday that you do have the state PD office that provides specialized training for defense attorneys. Could you talk a little bit more about the types of training that are available to people who are representing youth?

Elissa Johnson:  The office of the state public defender does several, at least two or three conferences throughout the year in various parts of the state that are full day, day and a half trainings focused on various aspects of juvenile defense that might include specific motions, practice, adolescent development, some of the unique issues; education around the conditions of confinement, mental health. There is a training requirement. I cannot recall, specifically, the number of hours per year that juvenile defenders attend that training and are more making sure that they are aware and up to date with unique issues that effect that client population.

Joann:   Is there any sort of training provided to the school system in terms of how to ... You're rights or school counselors, are they provided any sort of training in terms of their interface with juvenile justice?

Elissa Johnson:  It's going to vary a lot based upon the school district in terms of a set know your rights program for kids. There are community organizations. We've done some training around specific know your rights and other organizations, and the state has done so as well, but there is not a set training that school districts are receiving to be more familiar with the juvenile justice system. It is just going to vary.

Joann:   How many people are on staff here at the SPLC in Mississippi, and what are your primary geographic areas that you are covering in terms of the work that you are doing.

Elissa Johnson:  This office covers the entire state of Mississippi.

Joann:   ... But in terms of the majority of the time that you spend working in certain counties over other counties.

Elissa Johnson:  This office has been here for a little over ten years now. It has varied over time. At this point, we've done work on the coast. We've done work in Jackson. We've done work east of here, south of here, and north of here, especially because the scope of our work is very broad. Juvenile justice, education, mental health, criminal justice, and both looking at litigation, community advocacy, policy reform, and how, in addition, our office in Montgomery has some other projects, in terms of the immigrant rights project, the LGBT project, that sometimes there are cases in Mississippi in those areas, and we work with our colleagues in other offices to move forward those various subjectives and other issues as well.

Joann:   Could you talk a little bit about just the way the population looks in the state, and kind of what are the largest urban areas? How many people ... Obviously, [inaudible 00:37:54] has a large percentage of rural residents.

Elissa Johnson:  Jackson is going to be your largest urban area. The other major cities in the state are going to be down on the coast, so Gulf Port, Alexi, Hattiesburg, Meridian, the Delta, which is rural, but kind of the Delta combined has a significant population. The state is about forty percent African american. In terms of the youth court system, I would probably put the African american or minority percentage probably in the seventies, eighties, if not even a little higher. I don't have an exact stat, but just in terms of what we see, there is definitely a disproportionate minority contact. Most states are, unfortunately, trying to think of how to address racial and ethnic disparities.

Joann:   You mentioned Lauderdale County, where the DOJ came in. Has the DOJ ever come in under civil rights violations in terms of disproportionate involvement, other than Lauderdale that you know of, in recent history?

Elissa Johnson:  Not in the juvenile justice context. Mississippi still has several active de-segregation orders, and so the education arm of the DOJ and the civil rights section has some involvement throughout the state based upon the enforcement and compliance with those desegregation orders. That happened in Lauderdale and more recently up in the Delta and Cleveland, Bolivar County area, there has been some ongoing litigation between DOJ and the school district around desegregation.

Speaker 3: [inaudible 00:40:03]

Joann:   Okay, cool. Just so that we can get it on the record, just here in Hindes County, can you talk about what the youth court looks like, what the public defenders office looks like, and how many people live in this county, how many public defenders are there, and how many are assigned to juveniles? If you can put out ... I just want to hear it.

Elissa Johnson:  The metro Jackson area is probably two hundred, three thousand people. Hindes county is unique. Mississippi, one of the things that I should have mentioned is that it does not have a public defender system. Four or five counties, I think recently there have been a couple of additional counties that have moved towards full time public defenders, but outside of those counties, a vast majority of the state does not have a full time public defender in the adult or juvenile area. Here in Hindes county there is a public defenders office. There are a few different public defenders that are assigned to youth court; primary and then, obviously, conflict counsel, if there are multiple kids involved in one offense.

Our county court here ... One of the county court judges in Hindes county is at the court full time. In other jurisdictions, sometimes the county court judge ... There is more than one county court judge. Sometimes it rotates who is on youth court and who is doing the other county court matters, but here in Hindes county, that judge is full time, and so they are ... There is court mostly every day. In some of the smaller jurisdictions, youth court may only happen a couple of days a week, depending on the case load and availability of the judge.

Joann:   Well, that is my questions. Do you have anything that you want to add, just in general, that I did not ask you about?

Elissa Johnson:  I know that you are all doing a project around indigent defense, and that is an issue that ... When we meet with kids, a lot of times they haven't had an opportunity to talk with their defense council or be able to be able to have a really good understanding of the process. Our role is often, they have council for their delinquency defense, but sometimes kids just don't understand what the options are, especially if they are facing transfer or possibly commitment to Oakleigh, or mental health issues, or any of the combination of factors that might be happening at what times, so in terms of investigation and mitigation, sometimes that information just isn't presented. I talk to a lot of kids who couldn't tell me who their lawyer was in court, or they didn't have a very clear understanding of what happened in court or what the outcome was and what it means, and obviously, that's concerning, because we have to make sure that kids do understand the process and their right to council looks the same as what we would expect in an adult court system.