Power House Meeting Held to Discuss MJTC Future

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On Wednesday, July 17, members of law enforcement, legislators, and state and local officials met at Mansfield City Hall. The purpose of that meeting, according to Mayor Buddy Black, was to ensure that the citizens of Mansfield are notified in an effective and accurate manner regarding escapes from the Mansfield Juvenile Treatment Facility. Representatives of Youth Opportunity Investments were on hand to address those issues.

The round table discussion began with Black relaying concerns from citizens regarding notifications and surveillance. Marq Golden, Assistant Director with the Division of Youth Services, updated those in attendance with the work currently underway. That work includes anti-climb fencing. Keesa Smith, Deputy Director of DHS said, “we have a 90 day timeline to get that done…this is critically important.”

Senator Terry Rice expressed disappointment in the 90 day timeline. “I was assured weeks ago that the funding was there.” YOI Statewide Director Stacy Williams responded that until they do get the fencing up, they have added staff to secure the perimeter.

Williams shared the current protocol of notifications, noting that the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office is the first point of contact. YOI’s proposed notification system or “Emergency Call Tree” is initiated by newly appointed Facility Director Lemont Daniels. Then, to Williams, Sheriff Runion, Mansfield Police Chief Wayne Robb and Marq Golden. According to that “tree,” Williams will be responsible for notifying Tyrene Green, YOI Vice President of Program Development and Mayor Black. Black, in turn, will notify “community stakeholders.”

“We want to make sure all the critical public safety people know within 8-10 minutes of this occurring,” stated YOI attorney Sylvester Smith.

One addition, which Keesa Smith stated had been added to other facilities, was the RAVE Mobile Safety system. This is a mass automated notification app. “It doesn’t give them the details, but it will tell them when there is an escape and when they are brought back.”

Communication has been an issue in the past. Sheriff Runion said that the most recent escape involved a juvenile that had escaped previously. “When he got out, stole a vehicle and is brought back to do it again…it still bothers me.” Runion also asked why juveniles, being wards of the state, are being housed at his jail. “I really have an issue with that,” he said. “I haven’t pushed back very much, but since we’re all here…why am I taking a ward of the state and putting them in my jail?”

Runion recommended that those juveniles be taken back to the facility and transferred. Keesa Smith responded that they are not opposed to that proposal. “We…and I mean the contractor YOI, DHS, these guys here (Rice and Richmond) and Governor Hutchinson want this facility to be an asset to the community,” stated Sylvester Smith. “We don’t want to be a burden.”

The Sheriff’s office, according to Runion, is happy to be working with the new vendor. “I am actually really looking forward to you being there,” shared Runion. “We will assist you.”

Sylvester Smith stated that the lack of programming by DYS and boredom was the driving force of the repeated escapes. Kara Benca, DYS Assistant Director, said that they perform a battery of tests, compile that information and decide what treatment is needed. “We look back at history to see where to place them.” She added that the Mansfield facility is rated as moderate risk.

State Representative Marcus Richmond responded that the lack of common sense and broken promises have left him “skeptical.” He suggested meeting again to address progress. Keesa Smith agreed, stating they would be more than willing to do that.

The procurement hurtles have slowed efforts for necessary improvements such as fencing, and Senator Rice acknowledged that this is unacceptable.

“Our goal is the safety and security of the citizens of Sebastian County,” stated Sheriff Runion. Sylvester Smith responded by saying, “we’re all in this together and we all believe that this facility is an asset to Mansfield, and I can tell you the President of the company will come back here…we want to do something in town so people can ask questions.”

Arkansas State Police Investigator Kevin Richmond and Representative Richmond echoed the need for repercussions for juveniles within the system. Keesa Smith agreed and concluded by saying that some of these kids have a shot at turning their life around. With time, YOI promises to aid in that mission.

Sebastion-Sheriff
Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion (left) and Chief Deputy Kevin Nickson

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Jason Baggett

Jason Baggett

Personal favorite quote - "It's the simplest things in life that make the biggest difference."

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