State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Terry Rice

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LITTLE
ROCK – The Division of Youth Services (DYS) has already begun to make sweeping
changes in how the state treats juvenile offenders.

The
Division announced that the first day of May marked the beginning of a new
approach for meeting the needs of youthful offenders.

The
new changes mean that a team of staff will tailor an individual treatment plan
for each offender, and the team will discuss that plan in person with the
youths and their families. Previously, staff talked over the telephone with the
youth’s family.

The
team who personally meet with youths and families will be larger and more
specialized than previously. They will include an education specialist, a nurse,
a behavioral health clinician, an independent living expert and a behavior
modification specialist. With the family, they will review the results of every
assessment that the youths have gone through.

The
DYS announcement specifically mentioned the availability of drug abuse
treatment for teenagers who get in trouble with the law. The Division has
contracted with an organization that can house youths in a group home while
treating them for substance abuse.

Also,
the Division is opening a residential facility in Harrisburg for females. It
will be at the Harrisburg Juvenile Treatment Center and will open by the end of
May and will provide personalized treatment for girls.

The
new approach to treatment, and the renewed emphasis on keeping young offenders
in their local communities, is part of a statewide effort to completely
restructure the DYS system. Many of the changes are authorized in Act 189 of
2019, which requires all juvenile judges to rely on a uniform risk assessment
system.

A
goal is to eliminate the severe disparities in treatment of juvenile offenders,
which resulted in teenagers from some parts of the state being sentenced to
lockups for relatively minor offenses.

Judges
will be required to rely on uniform sentencing standards, but they also will
have more options. Some youths may be required to attend structured,
after-school programs in their hometowns, rather than being sent across the
state to a secure lockup.

DYS
is in the process of contracting with organizations that will provide residential
treatment for juvenile sex offenders, as well as substance abuse treatment.
Also, the Division will contract with an organization to operate a therapeutic
group home.

Every
year, about 350 youths get in trouble and are placed in the custody of DYS by a
court.

The
changes at DYS are meant to provide youths with the most appropriate treatment,
in the least restrictive setting. The Division has closed secure lockups, and
is expanding the use of group homes that are not surrounded by fencing.

In
related news, the DYS operation of secure detention facilities is in
litigation. The Division is in the process of contracting with a private firm
to run secure detention facilities in Dermott, Harrisburg, Lewisville and
Mansfield.

The
Nevada company that originally got the contract was disqualified after a
competitor from Indiana filed a complaint, which referred to past problems the
Nevada company had while running a juvenile lockup in Colorado. The Indiana
firm got the contract and the Nevada firm sued to win it back. The contract was
for one year and valued at $15.8 million.

A
spokesman for DYS said that the Division is poised to turn over the juvenile
facilities to a private operator by July 1.

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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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