MJTC: Reform (part 8)

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This is part eight and the final installment in our series on the Juvenile Treatment Center, located just outside Mansfield.

See part 1

See part 2

-See part 3

-See part 4

-See part 5

-See part 6

-See part 7

In late 2018, Governor Asa Hutchinson proposed sweeping changes to the Department of Human Services, Division of Youth Services. Briefly, those changes in phase I will include:

  • Revamping the assessment process so that youth get into treatment more quickly;
  • Moving to treatment plans that are developed by a robust treatment team and tailored to meet the needs of individual youth;
  • Engaging family members and aftercare providers, who will ensure the youth’s successful return to the community, from the outset for treatment planning.
  • Regularly reviewing treatment progress, required at least on three-month intervals
  • Providing progress reports of treatment to treatment team stakeholders.
  • Increasing the use of group homes for youth who do not need fence-secured treatment;
  • Closing the 23-bed Dermott Juvenile Treatment Center;
  • Merging the Colt and Harrisburg Juvenile Treatment Centers into one facility in Harrisburg;
  • Replacing the DYS information technology system known as Rite Track;
  • Revamping the oversight and monitoring programs to increase system integrity;
  • Requiring performance-based outcomes for youth as part of upcoming procurements for both our juvenile treatment centers and our aftercare programs, and expanding aftercare funding by $750,000 annually.

“We are working with the Youth Justice Reform Board, the juvenile judges, and others to identify long-term changes and improvements that can make a meaningful difference for our youth and their families,” Deputy Director Keesa Smith said.

Links:

DYS Transformation FactSheet

DYS Transformation Presentation

Currently, the state is accepting bids to contract the residential treatment facilities at Mansfield, Harrisburg, Dermott and Lewisville. Senator Terry Rice commented that he’s seen “privatization go really good and really bad.”

One former long time employee said the state never asked any opinions on what worked and what didn’t on the local level. “The procedures are a hinderance,” he added. “A three day advance notice to gain permission for a kid to go off campus from someone sitting in a cubicle in Little Rock is ridiculous…When the kids aren’t integrated they get a convict mindset.”

Community service, according to one longtime employee, increased morale and produced overall better behavior. “We used to go hiking and go to RazorFest. We would treat the kids to a meal during transport or as a reward for good behavior. That’s all been cut out.” Former MJTC employee Dana Adkins agrees. “The structure we had as a private sector was more military based, dress, hair and yes sir, no sir…I could take the kids out into the community and people saw them as nice young men.”

Compounding the problem is the inability for current administration and staff to answer direct questions from residents and city leaders. MJTC Director, Mark Barton, must direct all public comments about the facility through DYS in Little Rock.

Overall, the consensus is that the state needs to restore local control. “If they do it right, there are good jobs to be had and I dont want to see the place closed down,” concluded Rice.

Mansfield Mayor Buddy Black agrees. “I hope the facility remains open as it employs nearly 60 people and provides revenue.”

With the facility’s hardships and unknown future, those administrators and staff who remain, believe in the program and know that it works. As Adkins stated, “If it helps just one, then its worth it!”

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Tammy Teague

Tammy Teague

Mansfield native, with roots in Scott County. Daughter, sister, wife and Christian. Education: 1995 MHS graduate; 1999 Arkansas Tech University Graduate - BA in Journalism. Career: Managing Editor - The Citizen; Copy Writer - Southwest Times Record; 20+ years experience in the news.

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