- A database developed at The University of Southern Mississippi
between two unlikely academic partners is proving to be a valuable
asset to the Forrest County juvenile justice system, and could be
a model program statewide.
Two years ago,
the Southern Miss School of Social Work and the university's computer
science department joined forces to develop a data management system
for the Forrest County Youth Court and Detention Center as a way
for area agencies serving delinquent youth in the system to access
information about clients from the same source.
individual agencies relied on their own records, but tracking youth
in the juvenile justice system could often be difficult without
knowledge of their status with regard to other agencies involved
with their case.
funding available to Forrest County and the city of Hattiesburg,
a cooperative agreement was reached with officials at the university
to develop a database that could streamline existing information
and make the legal system more efficient.
we started, there was a lot of duplication of data entry (between
youth court and detention center)," said Dr. Tim Rehner, a
professor in the Southern Miss School of Social Work. "Our
goal was to create an integrated system."
program, known as SWORD, helps personnel with various agencies that
serve youth by providing them a single database they can use to
fulfill the necessary reporting requirements that while similar,
are not identical to each other. SWORD tracks caseloads, the names
of those serving as counselor for the offender, and various data
about the youth such as age, address and type of offense. Confidentiality
and information security is also maintained through the use of a
virtual private network (VPN).
is to make it available to all the various agencies that serve in
one way or another youth and their families, from mental health
providers to truancy officers, and the different entities that serve
these youth will be given differing levels of access (to the database),"
said Dr. Mike Forster, director of the Southern Miss School of Social
Work. "It's going to make a world of difference to have up-to-date,
the funding, which came from a federal program known as Juvenile
Accountability Incentive Block Grant (originating from the U.S.
Justice Department) is a unique example of cooperation between various
public entities to maximize the effect of grant money for a given
area. "It's the only program I know pooling these dollars together,"
grant allows for the funding of four doctoral students in scientific
computing, working in conjunction with social service personnel,
many of whom are graduates of the Southern Miss School of Social
Work. Two state-of-the-art computer workstations located in the
school's offices provide the setting for the development and maintenance
helps with how we process cases and prevent gaps in the (juvenile
justice) system, and helps us do our job much better," said
Mike McPhail, Forrest County and Youth Court Judge. "It helps
to craft a case plan that's suited for all parties involved, including
the child and the parents. You have background information you can
to developing new relationships with another academic department
on campus, the project is one Rehner would like to see put in place
across Mississippi. "Our vision is to make this program available
statewide," he said.