Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Not since wrestling's Steve Austin and The Undertaker has there been a more formidable tag-team duo than Kenny and LaRita Cooper-Stokes.
Since her election to fill the seat her husband, Kenneth Stokes, vacated to join the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, Ward 3's Cooper-Stokes has been trying to reinstitute a city curfew for young people.
The Jackson City Council will return to the issue tonight with a public hearing on the yet-to-be submitted ordinance.
Civil-liberties-minded citizens oppose implementing such measures because the laws are often written in a way that can trample constitutional rights.
Bear Atwood, legal director for the Mississippi ACLU, said curfew ordinance could violate citizens' rights to free assembly and speech and could invite illegal racial profiling. "Curfews do not reduce crime. Curfews don't make our communities safer," Atwood said.
In fact, curfews increase the chances a young person could come into contact with the police and possibly be detained, she added. "All the evidence says that even one night in detention could make a big difference in a child's future life. Curfews are an entry into the school-to-prison pipeline," Atwood said.
The lack of jail space has made renewing the Jackson teen curfew a non-starter. Under an old curfew which expired in 2007, people under 18 were not allowed to be in any public place between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays, and midnight and 6 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. When police picked up violators, they took the minors to Henley-Young Youth Detention Center.
However, state law now prohibits municipalities from holding status offenders, such as curfew violators, in the same facility as criminals such as burglars or murderers. A consent decree from the state also prevents the city from creating any new conditions that would send juveniles to Henley-Young, Deputy City Attorney James Anderson said at a Oct. 4 Planning Committee meeting.
The Stokes' answer to the lack of jail space has been to lobby for a new city jail. District 5 Supervisor Kenneth Stokes has lobbied since joining the board that Hinds County should either jack up the rates it charges for housing Jackson offenders or refuse to accept them, which would force the city to build its own detention center.
Cooper-Stokes, who could not be reached for this story, has made similar calls since she joined the city council. She once suggested asking the Jackson Public Schools if there was a spare building to detain troublesome youths.
Atwood of the ACLU, who said that governments should refocus efforts away from "arresting kids and putting them in a room" acknowledges that other cities have put similar curfews into effect.
Still, that's no reason to follow those cities down the wrong path, Atwood said. "No matter how carefully drafted, it's going to be an implemented in an unconstitutional way."
The City Council public forum on Stokes' curfew proposal takes place Tuesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 219 S. President St.