Hutchinson announces plans for juvenile justice changes | Arkansas Blog

Friday, November 16, 2018

Hutchinson announces plans for juvenile justice changes

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 10:27 AM

YOUTH CHANGES: Keesa Smith of the Division of Youth Services joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson at announcement of coming changes in the agency.
  • YOUTH CHANGES: Keesa Smith of the Division of Youth Services joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson at announcement of coming changes in the agency.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced plans to improve state youth services that include the closure of two residential facilities and increased spending on community-based programs for troubled kids. The effort is pitched as a focus on treatment rather than incarceration and returning children to their homes.

Highlights of the announcement:

* Legislation to require the "validated risk assessment" mandatory in all courts that handle juvenile cases. This, the governor said, will make sure youths get the right level of assistance.

* Close the Dermott Juvenile Treatment Center and combine center at Colt and Harrisburg into the center at Harrisburg. Savings would be transferred to community-based programs. By July, the state expects to have chosen a successful bidder for private operation of the five remaining facilities.

* Make changes so that youth assessments will be made more quickly and better tailored to individual cases. The changes will aim at engaging family members and regular progress reviews, use of group homes, a new information system at the Division of Youth Services and the improvement of monitoring and oversight.

* Continuation in the next budget year of $2 million in innovation grants for community-based treatment, plus another $750,000 for community treatment and $200,000 to accelerate assessments for treatment.

The residential centers have been plagued with problems over the years and criticized for not contributing to the rehabilitation of kids in need of help. For example, there was this report on Dermott.

The Human Services Department issued this release:

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced a series of actions that will serve as the State’s initial steps to accelerate the transformation of the juvenile justice system and to better equip the system to meet the needs of youth in Division of Youth Services (DYS) care, their families, and the judicial system.

“Today marks a monumental step forward for our juvenile justice system because the State is taking real action to address long-standing concerns and to fundamentally shift so that youth get individualized quality treatment in the least restrictive setting and youth’s families and communities are ready to help them when they return home,” Hutchinson said. “The plan DHS has outlined will result in a transformation of how it delivers services to these juveniles with a rebalancing between residential placement, group homes, and community-based services, and a heightened focus on family and community reintegration.”

DHS has already started planning for the first phase of work to improve the system, with goals geared toward tailoring treatment plans for youth and engaging families for a youth’s return home.

“Most of the youth ordered to receive treatment from DYS were involved in non-violent offenses, and they will return to their homes and communities,” said Deputy Director Keesa Smith, who oversees all children and youth divisions. “With that in mind, Phase I efforts will focus on getting youth into treatment quickly, making sure youths’ treatment plans address their specific needs, and involving family and community partners from the beginning of the process and throughout treatment. The goal is to give everyone involved the tools to address the challenges that brought the youth to DYS so that young person can go on to live a productive adult life.”

Initial action steps in Phase I 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.

DYS Director Betty Guhman said that though the steps outlined in this plan will take time to implement, they are just the first of many more actions the state will take to modernize the juvenile justice system over the next several years.

“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,” Smith said. “We’re excited about the steps we’re announcing today and what lies ahead.”
UPDATE: Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families cheered the announcement:

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families would like to thank Governor Asa Hutchinson and his administration for today’s historic announcement and their leadership in reforming the state’s juvenile justice system. His plans to mandate the “validated risk assessment” in all juvenile courts, to close two residential facilities, and to increase funding for community-based treatment programs and their assessment demonstrate a commitment to improving the outcomes for children and families in Arkansas.

There is still much work to be done in the 2019 legislative session. But it’s clear that Arkansas is charting a new path for long-overdue reform of the juvenile justice system, thanks to the Governor’s leadership and the work of the Youth Justice Reform Board and the Arkansas Supreme Court Commission on Children, Youth and Families. Today’s announcement provides hope that true reform and better outcomes for children in Division of Youth Services care are finally within our reach.
Disability Rights Arkansas also welcomed the news.

Disability Rights Arkansas, Inc. (DRA) has been monitoring Juvenile Treatment Centers across Arkansas for more than five years. In that time, the agency has reported concerns over a failure
to provide treatment, lack of educational opportunities, ineffective Aftercare plan, and poor overall conditions.

“Our investigations at these facilities have shown an appalling lack of treatment and educational opportunities that has persisted for years,” said Tom Masseau, executive director of Disability Rights Arkansas. “Today’s announcement by Governor Hutchison and the Department of Human Services Division of Youth Services is the first step towards transforming the juvenile justice system in Arkansas to a more community based system rather than a punitive system.

The Governor announced today the planned closure of the Dermott Juvenile Treatment Center and the combining of the Colt/Harrisburg Juvenile Treatment Centers which will allow additional funding to be invested into community services for the youth. Additionally, requiring a statewide validated assessment tool prior to placement in a secure facility, along with the requirement of treatment plans being reviewed every three months are issues DRA has been advocating for within the state.

“DRA is committed to holding Governor Hutchison and the Department of Human Services Division of Youth Services accountable to its promises and will continue to advocate for the
rights of the youth in the state of Arkansas,” continued Masseau.

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