Open up youth court

Published 10:17 am Friday, February 10, 2017

It appears the state Legislature will fail to shine much light on secretive Youth Court proceedings.

And that will hurt the very children and families such secrecy purports to protect.

The harm was well-documented in the Sun Herald’s Fostering Secrets series, which showed parents were treated unfairly and children were needlessly removed from homes.

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Perhaps some of those mistakes could have been prevented, had the courts and the investigators treated the press as a willing partner rather than an adversary.

Many jurists agree.

“It is vital that the public have a good understanding of the court and confidence in the court process,” New York Chief Judge Kaye said when that state opened its courts. “The new rules have been carefully drawn to clarify that the court indeed is open, while at the same time providing safeguards for families and children.”

That was in 1997. Twenty years ago.

And now it appears it will be 21 years at least before Mississippi joins a growing number of states that have trusted the press and the public with the inner workings of this powerful system.

Out of more than two dozen bills dealing with youth courts and Child Protection Services that were filed this year, only a handful survive, and a couple of those are just housekeeping.

None would open the court to the press or public.

Such a closed system invites bad actors. Such a system hinders the watchdogs of the press, who have proven time and again to be among the people’s best protections against corruption.

— The Sun Herald, Biloxi