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State Continues to Face Challenges in Juvenile Justice System

From Senator Larry Teague

December 2, 2016

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas lawmakers face an ongoing challenge to improve the state juvenile justice system.

The latest issue arises from a contract that the state Division of Youth Services wants to sign with a private company to operate seven secure detention facilities for youths. After the division announced that it would award the contract to an Indiana firm, two Arkansas organizations that previously ran the facilities filed objections and requested that the bidding process be reviewed.

After a three-month delay, the division again announced its intention to award the contract to the Indiana, Youth Opportunity Investments.

Consideration of the $160 million a year contract is on the agenda of the Review Committee of the Legislative Council this week. The state would pay Youth Opportunity Investments to provide residential treatment services for juveniles committed to facilities by the justice system. The original contract is through the end of 2019.

The facilities house serious offenders and offenders who are disruptive in other settings, such as community counseling sessions. They are in Colt, Dermott, Harrisburg, Lewisville and Mansfield, which has detention facilities for males and females.  Dermott has two facilities; one is for sex offenders.

Perhaps the most well known juvenile detention facility is in Alexander. It is operated by another private company called Rite of Passage. It is based in Nevada and was awarded the contract to run the Alexander facility in August. It has 100 beds. The three-year contract is for about $11 million a year.

The Youth Services Division awarded the contract to Rite of Passage to replace G4S, a Florida company that had operated the Alexander facility since 2007.

Over the past few years, about 500 youths are committed each year to a detention facility in Arkansas. In the 2015 session the legislature approved Act 1010 to create a 21-member Youth Justice Reform Board to study the effectiveness, costs and overall fairness of the state’s juvenile justice system.

For example, judges in some areas rarely send juveniles to lockups. Instead, they are ordered to undergo treatment and counseling in locally supervised programs. However, in other areas of the state judges routinely send youths to detention facilities for the same offenses. Only 10 percent of the youths committed last year had committed a violent offense.

The Reform Board is working on proposals for reducing the number of youths sent to a lockup for non-violent offenses. Sending a youth to a detention facility costs the state more than it does to provide community-based treatment. However, in some areas of the state those treatment services are not readily available.

Lottery Promotions

The state has chosen CJRW, a Little Rock advertising firm, to promote scholarship lotteries. The $34.5 million contract is for five years. Competing firms have 14 days to protest the awarding of the contract.

Last year the state hired a consultant, Camelot Global Services, to develop a plan for increasing sales of lottery tickets. One aspect of Camelot’s plan was to increase the lottery’s advertising budget from about $5 million a year to more than $7 million a year. It also has called for increasing the number of stores and retails outlets in Arkansas that sell lottery tickets. There are about 1,900 now and Camelot proposes adding 600.

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