JACKSON, MISS– Gov. Phil Bryant has signed into law the Termination of Parental Rights Act and the Juvenile Detention Licensing Act.“With your help we have taken that next step in making sure juvenile detention centers are licensed for safety,” the Governor told judges, child protection agency heads and children’s justice advocates who had gathered at the Mississippi Supreme Court to hear a presentation about protecting infants and toddlers who are abused and neglected.
Jurist in Residence John Hudson of Natchez, who has worked for many years to bring about improvements in juvenile detention facilities, said, “I think it’s a huge step forward in juvenile justice in Mississippi. It will mean that when children are placed in detention facilities, we can be confident that they are placed in a facility where their safety and well being is uppermost.”
Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who had asked the Legislature to revise the termination of parental rights law, said the revisions will benefit children who come under the protection of the courts.
The Termination of Parental Rights Act, House Bill 1240, introduced by Rep. Trey Lamar of Senatobia and Rep. Kimberly Campbell of Jackson, repealed problematic sections of the existing laws and replaced those with statues which are intended to achieve permanent placement more quickly for abused and neglected children. The legislation removed provisions that blocked adoption of children by relatives in some cases and removed provisions that prevented termination of parental rights of an estranged parent in some cases.
The Termination of Parental Rights Act brings help to “lots of children who are presently hung up in the foster care system, so that they can be placed in safe homes,” said Judge Hudson.
Judge Broome said that reunification of families is always the most desirable outcome in cases involving children. “However, in those instances in which the harm has been too great, termination of parental rights is the way these children achieve permanency, well being and safety.”
HB 1240 went into effect immediately.
HB 1240 is at this link: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2016/pdf/history/HB/HB1240.xml.
The Juvenile Detention Licensing Act, Senate Bill 2364, introduced by Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula, requires licensing of juvenile detention facilities by October 2017 to assure minimum standards. Facility reviews will start in October 2016. The new law increases the authority of the existing Juvenile Facilities Monitoring Unit, giving it the role of a licensing agency. Previously, the Juvenile Facilities Monitoring Unit, a part of the Department of Public Safety, could inspect and point out shortcomings, but lacked authority to force improvements. Under the new statute, if a facility fails to make improvements, it won’t be licensed.
Judge Hudson sad, “The main thing that this does is it creates minimum standards for all of our detention facilities to make certain that children who are detained are safely detained. The purpose was to create minimum standards that would benefit both the detention facility and make sure that children housed there would be housed safely and cared for appropriately. The primary reason was the safety of the kids. Those standards first and foremost are to protect those children who have to be detained. It also protects the facilities. It gives them a standard to qualify under, which protects them from lawsuits.”
The Act seeks to improve training of juvenile detention facility staff and improve education provided to juveniles while they are confined.
Senate Bill 2364 will go into effect July 1.
SB 2364 is at this link: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2016/pdf/history/SB/SB2364.xml.
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