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

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Michelle Liu, Mississippi Today/ Report for AmericaJohnnie McDaniels with his campaign truck outside Bakers Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Hinds County on Sept. 23, 2018.
When Johnnie McDaniels first arrived to take charge of the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in 2015, he recalled the youth detention center as upholding the classic school-to-prison pipeline for Hinds County children.
McDaniels, who had previously lost a bid to unseat youth court Judge Bill Skinner, began to draw more funding, hire more staff and generally push the detention center to meet the requirements of a federal order handed down in 2012.
“This facility is on the verge of being the model facility for the state of Mississippi in terms of the types of services we provide on a daily basis,” McDaniels said in an interview, reflecting on Henley-Young’s progress in the last three years.
Case managers follow children through the system. Juveniles now have access to mental health care while in Henley-Young. The detention center also has classes that Jackson Public Schools teachers teach, causing one person to quip that Henley-Young has the “safest and best” school in the city, McDaniels said.
Earlier this year, McDaniels took a leave of absence from his job as the executive director of the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center to run for retiring Hinds County Court Judge Bill Skinner’s seat, a position he ran for unsuccessfully four years ago before taking helm of the youth detention center. This time around, McDaniels beat runner-up and Raymond attorney John Fike in a runoff election with over 63 percent of the vote, unofficial results show.
McDaniels, alongside newly elected judges Adrienne Wooten and Faye Peterson, believes they could transform the judicial landscape in Mississippi’s most populous county. He wants to revisit how the court moves juveniles charged as adults through the system and how programs like youth drug courts work