/Meet Johnnie McDaniels, the new judge who wants to rethink Hinds County’s juvenile justice system

Meet Johnnie McDaniels, the new judge who wants to rethink Hinds County’s juvenile justice system

McDaniels had lost an earlier bid to unseat Judge Bill Skinner from the youth court. He began to raise more money, hire more staff, and push the detention center towards meeting the federal requirements. McDaniels stated that “this facility is on track to be the model facility in Mississippi in terms of what services we provide every day.” Henley-Young has made great progress over the past three years. Children are supervised by case managers. Henley-Young now offers mental health services to juveniles. McDaniels stated that the detention center has classes taught by Jackson Public Schools teachers. McDaniels, who was the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center’s executive director, took a break to run for the seat of retiring Hinds County Court Judge Bill Skinner. He ran unsuccessfully for the position four years prior to taking over the youth detention center. Unofficial results show that McDaniels won the runoff election beating Raymond attorney John Fike, who was second. McDaniels and newly elected judges Adrienne Wolfet and Faye Peterson believe they can transform Mississippi’s judicial system. McDaniels wants to examine how juveniles are charged in adult court cases and how programs such as youth drug courts operate in Hinds County. While most youth court judges are responsible for overseeing both neglect and abuse cases, these cases are handled by separate judges. McDaniels would love to see all the cases considered by McDaniels in one docket. McDaniels stated that “these things are not distinct and separate.” McDaniels stated that “these things are not separate and distinct.” McDaniels’ first run for judge was in 2014. He wanted to challenge an incumbent judge, who he felt was not appreciating the changes in juvenile justice in Mississippi. The federal consent decree covers the county’s youth center, which has been in place since 2012. The conditions, which Leonard Dixon, a federal court monitor, called “deplorable,” means that the center can now house juveniles being charged as adults. Henley-Young, like many other county criminal justice systems, has faced funding problems and delays in the pretrial process that have left juveniles locked up for several months without any indictments. McDaniels is described by Hinds County system players as having a unique perspective on the juvenile justice system. McDaniels was once a municipal judge in Utica and a city prosecutor in Jackson. He hopes that his experience at all points of the system will enable him to serve as a judge on the court this January. McDaniels, who was once a prosecutor for the city of Jackson and a municipal judge in Utica, was photographed with Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thomson (who supported him on a sample ballot earlier in this year). He was also backed by state’s Democratic party. McDaniels’ federal court monitor Dixon noted that McDaniels had hired and trained more people, and worked with the courts, detention centers staff, and the board of supervisors to get the children what they needed. Dixon also said that McDaniels was able to understand the system from both a systems and confinement perspective. Dixon said that all juvenile justice court judges like McDaniels should spend time in juvenile institutions to get a better understanding of what’s happening. Jody Owens is the managing attorney of the Mississippi Southern Poverty Law Center. She represents the plaintiffs in the Henley Young consent decree. Owens stated that McDaniels was appointed director of the detention centre and he saw “significant movement” by the county towards complying with the consent decree. Owens suggested that McDaniels could be a bench member and help to oversee the completion of the consent decree. McDaniels stated that Frederick Douglass said it best: either you build strong children, or you have to try and prepare broken men, women, for the consent decree to be finalized. “We’ve had this backwards in Hinds County over the past ten years, at most as it relates our juvenile justice system.”