CLARKSDALE, Miss. -- Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said his passion for helping young men started during a visit to the juvenile detention center while he was mayor.
“I grabbed this boy and I hugged him. I said, 'Son, this is no place to live your life.' This little boy gave me the biggest smile. I got hooked," he said.
His latest project has been to create a sort of diversion center, where kids who get out of the detention center can go for job training, mental health care and education.
“What we want to do is eliminate the school-to-prison trajectory problem," he said.
He’s been working on the Memphis part of that plan for more than a year, and now he’s expanding in to Mississippi. It’s even possible the other Mid-South location could open before the center does in Memphis.
"A couple weeks ago made a presentation to officials in Clarksdale,” he said.
Clarksdale Commissioner Bo Plunk was at the presentation. He said the center would be a huge boost for the area. It would provide up to 100 jobs and fill a big void.
“Coahoma County doesn’t have a juvenile detention center. Most of our crime here in Clarksdale is committed by juveniles. We process them in and then they're already out. So they’re not being disciplined or taught another way. I think a juvenile detention center would help," Plunk said.
But he wanted to know more about the rules and funding.
He said Herenton has offered to fund the center, but it would have to be a public partnership.
“How long can a juvenile be held in a detention center and who’s paying for it? To my understanding, Coahoma County would be responsible for paying a percent each day for a juvenile being held," Plunk said.
Herenton said he’ll give a follow-up presentation in the next month to provide more info. They’re also looking for land in Clarksdale city limits where they could build the center.
Plunk said it's possible the center could also offer services across the border to people in the Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, area.