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Youth lockup closing is second of 2019 for state

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Youth lockup closing is second of 2019 for state

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Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Friday, June 28, 2019

By Ginny Monk

A youth lockup in southeast Arkansas closed its doors Thursday, making it the second such state facility to shutter since the start of the year.

The Dermott Juvenile Treatment Center's closure is part of the state's plan to improve the juvenile-justice system and put fewer kids behind bars, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in November.

"Closing the Dermott Juvenile Treatment Center at the same time we work to invest more funding in our community programs and expand access to less restrictive settings shows our commitment to making meaningful reform in the juvenile justice system," said Michael Crump, director of the Youth Services Division in the news release.

The center had 32 beds and was set to close by Sunday, according to a news release from the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the umbrella agency of the Youth Services Division.

The last 10 kids at the lockup were transferred to other Youth Services Division treatment facilities, sent home or to other facilities such as youth homes, said Marci Manley, a department spokesman.

The Dermott Juvenile Correctional Facility, for males 18 to 21 years old, is not closing.

The Colt Juvenile Treatment Center in St. Francis County closed in January. It had 28 beds, and several of the children there were transferred to a facility in Harrisburg.

The two closures were a part of a plan from the Human Services Department and Hutchinson to rework the state's juvenile-justice system, which advocates and experts have said lacked best-practice diversion techniques and didn't provide the best care for kids.

"We have a responsibility to provide a better quality, individualized treatment for our youth in the least restrictive setting, and this is another step towards that goal," Hutchinson said in a written statement.

No one was laid off because of the treatment facility's closure, Manley said.

The Dermott treatment center's 20 staff members were given the option to apply for openings at the Dermott correctional unit. Fifteen applied, and the facility's new management company hired all of them.

The Youth Services Division now runs five juvenile lockups -- two in Mansfield, one for boys and one for girls; Harrisburg; Lewisville; and the correctional unit for older youths in Dermott.

Youth Opportunity Investments LLC, an Indiana company, will take over day-to-day operations at these lockups beginning Monday, Manley said in an email.

A sixth facility, the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center near Alexander, is managed by Rite of Passage Inc. of Nevada.

Previous reporting from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette shows that 402 youths were locked up in state facilities in fiscal 2018, which ended last June 30. The year before, 433 children were incarcerated. In fiscal 2015, it was 526.

Tom Masseau, executive director of Disability Rights Arkansas, said that while the closures show good progress, the state still has a long way to go. His group is a nonprofit that is a federally designated protection and advocacy organization for people with disabilities in Arkansas.

"The closure of Dermott is a good step forward, but the state really needs to look at the other five facilities," he said. "There are problems at all the facilities."

The group has been monitoring the treatment of children at state lockups for years, Masseau said.

Cited problems have included lack of special education -- kids are allowed to sleep at desks or surf the Web rather than learn. Attempts to provide treatment and rehabilitate youths back into the community have been treated similarly, he said.

A report from Disability Rights Arkansas last year outlined employees' use of excessive force such as pepper-spraying and using restraints on children at both Dermott lockups.

Masseau said that because of these problems, he's glad one of the Dermott facilities is closing, but overall, he wants to see the state use more diversion tactics to keep kids out of prison, provide more effective treatment when they are incarcerated, and put more money into communities for their care.

"You put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig," Masseau said. "You close two facilities, you're not erasing those problems. They're still there."

[This article was originally published by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.]