MJTC: Safety and Security (part 5)

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This is part five in a series on the Juvenile Treatment Center, located just outside Mansfield. Throughout this series we will take an in-depth look into the program, find out what life is like for the offenders, workers and the impact it has on the area.

In this installment we will look at the current and proposed safety measures at the facility.

See part 1

See part 2

-See part 3

-See part 4

At one time, the Mansfield Juvenile Treatment Center was secured by 10 foot tall fencing, which was topped with barbed and razor wire. That wire has since been removed. This, according to State Senator Terry Rice, in an effort to make the facility more “therapeutic.”

This was just one of the changes the state made when it took over in 2016. According to former employee, Dana Adkins, when the state took over, it fell into a steady decline.

“Little Rock is completely out of touch,” said one former, long time employee. “They tied administrators hands to the point that we could no longer make the local decisions that need to be made.”
The frustrations and bureaucratic red tape forced many of these long-time employees out.

The lack of security and ability for employees to effectively do their job has been among the chief concerns and complaints from MJTC workers. One of the former employees at the facility said that he’d been there long enough to know what worked, and being able to make behavior based decisions on punishments and rewards was very effective. “When it was ran by South Arkansas Youth Services (privatized), the staff was able to extend time for bad behavior, and allow good behavior privileges, such as extra helpings of food…You wouldn’t believe how much an extra biscuit and gravy meant to these kids. If it’s something they care about, they will police themselves.” 

This was another change made following the state takeover. All options to allow for extra helpings of food and food during visitation have since been cut out.

“The former policy worked,” said a former MJTC worker. “If a kid is violent, they could be sent to a juvenile detention center. During that time we could get another kid to work with, one willing to work.”

Currently, officials in Little Rock make those decisions. And, some of those juveniles who escaped in December, are currently back at the facility. “The previous operator had the ability to move troubled youth from different sites under his control,” stated Rice. “It is demoralizing to have a repeat offender that they cannot correct or move out.”

Currently the ratio of staff to clients is 1:8 during the day and 1:10 at night. According to Adkins , that’s simply not sufficient. “There needs to be two staff members per eight clients on all shifts,” she added.

“The state is treading water to keep this thing going,” added Rice. “I told them at a meeting a few weeks ago that there is a need for more security…the state doesn’t know how to run a facility like this.”

According to Marcy Manley, DHS Deputy Chief of Communications, “staff are trained to recognize warning signs of potential aggression and intervene prior to a situation escalating. The training policy addresses the subject matter in which staff are to rely upon when interacting with youth. The DYS Use of Force policy specifically addresses how staff are to intervene with both verbal and nonverbal interventions.”

Currently, when there are altercations or disruptions at the facility, the shift supervisor makes the decision on when to involve law enforcement. The City of Mansfield Police Department, the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office and occasionally the Arkansas State Police are called on to help assist in restoring order.

“Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office answers calls for service to MJTC.  Arkansas State Police, Criminal Investigations Division is responsible for anything past the calls for service that will require further investigation,” stated Captain Pevehouse with the SCSO. “Over the course of the last year, we have responded to three different matters where arrests were made.  These range from batteries to escape. If a call is made to our office, a deputy or deputies will respond.  He or she will gather the information and determine if a crime has taken place.  If so, he or she will place the juvenile in custody and take them to our Juvenile Detention Center in Fort Smith.  From there, the juvenile will be given a date in front of a judge and the judge will then decide the next step. If the deputy or deputies feel the information they received requires more investigation, the matter will be turned over to ASP CID…If there is an escape from the facility, SCSO will always respond to protect not only the juveniles from the facility, but also the public.  We will stay engaged in looking for the juveniles until they are captured.  Historically, their capture usually happens within 24 hours.”

Manley stated that if a juvenile escapes the MJTC, they “will be staffed for the most appropriate placement and possibly placed on a safety plan. They could be sent to a juvenile detention center for a timeout away from the facility or returned to the facility from which they absconded. They could also be transferred to an alternative program.”

Manley added that come July 1, the youth placed at Mansfield Juvenile Treatment Center will be 58 boys in a hardware-secure, fenced setting, ages 13-18 with moderate to high risk (aggression, flight risk, behavioral, and gang involvement).

These safety and security concerns are far reaching into the community and the school district. In the next installment, we will look at the impact the MJTC has on both.

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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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