Flaggs, Warren County Supervisors discuss youth crime prevention programs

Published 3:49 pm Monday, February 13, 2023

Following the creation of an ad hoc Youth Violence Prevention Committee on Feb. 9, Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. spent Monday morning asking for the support of the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

Flaggs presented to the board during its working meeting, stating the intent behind his newly created committee and goals for long-term reduction and prevention of crime among area youth. Helping at-risk children and teens, he said, is the first step the community needs to take before it can succeed in other aspects.

“I’ll say this, and I say it emphatically: We can’t have economic development, we can’t have a good education system, you can’t have nothing if we keep youth violence on the front page of the paper or any crime on the front page,” Flaggs said. “I think we’re moving forward on projects like the port, and our city’s progressing like never before, but we’ve got to do something about this.”

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The mayor continued his presentation, stating his intent to request $200,000 each from the Board of Supervisors and Vicksburg Warren School District, in addition to the same amount from the city, to form a youth development program.

The $200,00 would be split over two years, which Flaggs said would allow the entities involved time to assess the effectiveness of the initiative. The mayor also stated his intent to ensure accountability both in the use of funds and in the unification of existing community programs, such as the United Way of West Central Mississippi.

Children would be able to access programming through a voucher system, which would cover services at a yet-to-be-determined rate. Any child would be eligible for the program, he said, but his goal is to focus on children recommended by the Warren County Youth Court, Vicksburg Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and VWSD.

In addition to outreach programs and a comprehensive strategy proposed by the ad hoc committee, a proposal letter distributed to the Board of Supervisors listed additional goals in its “multi-prong approach”:

  • Create a comprehensive plan that addresses the mental, psychological and behavioral safety and well-being of the youth in the city of Vicksburg.
  • Maintain a database that monitors chronic absenteeism in order to decrease the student dropout rate.

On the note of chronic absenteeism, Flaggs addressed rates at both Vicksburg and Warren Central high schools. According to the district’s Dropout Prevention Plan, in the 2021-22 school year, 73 percent of students at VHS and 60 percent of WCHS students are considered “off track,” meaning they are absent for 10 percent or more school days.

District 2 Supervisor William Banks expressed support for the mayor’s efforts, but said he had some criticisms and questions regarding the implementation of the goals.

“I don’t see a parent or single parent, or a single mother who’s out working on this committee, who has the inside information about these children and can have conversations with other parents that are having the same problem,” Banks said.”Did you reach out to any of them to join as well?”

Banks added that he spends time with youth and parents at the YMCA and Jackson Street Community Center, and parents have on occasion expressed frustrations with the lack of input when youth programs are discussed.

Board President Kelle Barfield pointed out that Warren County and the city of Vicksburg have many services available through local nonprofits, the youth court system and schools, but they’re “fragmented.”

“We have a lot of services that are available,” Barfield said. “They’re just fragmented, disconnected. So, the money’s not so much about creating new programs.”

Flaggs responded to Banks and Barfield, explaining that one reason youth crime has become an issue in the area is a lack of collaboration, cooperation and accountability.

District 3 Supervisor Shawn Jackson said she agreed with Banks’ assessment, adding that the city might be able to accomplish its goals without funding from the county.

“Funding should be going into the community and buttressing programs and people who are on the ground in the community who have direct access to these children, for example, churches and things like that,” Jackson said. “This seems like this is really small compared to the power you already have out of your office and the budget you have.”

The board ended its discussion with Flaggs by suggesting a unified entity made up of both county and city representatives that would serve as a one-stop shop for those requesting funding for youth crime prevention efforts.

As Jackson phrased it, “Pay-in comes with say-in.”

Flaggs stated that his ad hoc committee will dissolve “in the next two or three meetings,” and from that point, the Youth Violence Prevention Program will begin to take shape.

The program is still in its infancy following the shooting death of 13-year-old Carleone Woodland on Jan. 30 at the hands of three other teenagers.

“Essentially, we have fabulous resources, whether it has to do with literacy and learning, discipline or just quality of life and recreation. We have non-profits that are great at what they do,” Barfield said following the meeting. “None of it is tied together and is concrete. This would be a centralized support center that would be allowed, by referral, or by self-referral, if parents feel they need these services for their children.

“It’s a mechanism to evaluate the effectiveness of what we have and what we can do to make it more effective,” she added.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors will evaluate draft proposals when the committee completes its work and provide additional input to the effort.