LITTLE ROCK – In the past two years, the number of youths in state custody has declined by nearly thirty percent, and today I’d like to discuss some of the changes we have made to achieve that.
During my first campaign for governor in 2014, I became concerned about the quality of care at our state’s juvenile detention centers and pledged to improve the work that we were doing.
Before I took office, I made a surprise visit to the juvenile assessment and treatment center at Alexander so that I could see conditions for myself. I also wanted to assure Arkansans that this issue would be a priority for my administration.
Our goal was to cut the number of youth sent to the Division of Youth Services, and to improve the care and treatment of those who are sent.
We have updated our policies and regulations since 2017, and the latest numbers affirm they have been effective.
As of February 13, there were 235 youths in our five residential treatment centers, 92 fewer than July 2017.
The Division of Youth Services reported that last week there were only six youths in juvenile centers operated by counties, which is an 87 percent decrease compared to the 47 in July 2017.
I directed the Division of Youth Services to take over the day-to-day operations of seven of our eight residential treatment centers. We established goals that included faster assessment and placement of youth under state supervision.
We began to develop personalized treatment plans that addressed the needs of each juvenile. We also began to engage family members and other care providers to ease a youth’s return to the community.
In November 2018, we announced that we were closing the youth treatment centers at Colt and Dermott. We now operate only five.
Judges are a vital part of our approach because they can help steer youths to the appropriate services that would be more beneficial than spending time in a detention center.
Last year, the General Assembly – to their credit – passed Act 189, which requires the use of a validated risk assessment tool. This tool helps determine the youth’s level of risk for reoffending and to divert youth to group homes or community-based services instead of sending them to a detention center.
Now we are focusing on ways to improve our community-based services.
Our ultimate goal in improving services for youth is to improve their chances of success when they leave the system. I applaud the leaders in the Department of Human Services and the Division of Youth Services for their commitment to our young people.