TRYING AGAIN: The governor says he again intends to try to find an outside operator of youth facilities. Brian Chilson

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced this morning that he will again seek a private entity to manage Youth Services Division facilities.

Last December, the state took control of six juvenile correctional and treatment facilities that had been run by Arkansas-based nonprofits*. The Hutchinson administration had wanted to turn the work over to an Indiana-based corporation. Local agencies complained the bidding was unfair and a political fight in the legislature ended in a stalemate. The governor was forced to resume state control as an interim measure and as recently as late July, he wasn’t clear on the next step.

He said bids will be taken in late fall. His plan includes putting $2 million into encouraging more community-based placement of juveniles. He said he wants to make sure the request for bids is clear and fair.

Benji Hardy will have a fuller report later for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Service and we’ll post it when it’s complete.


Hutchinson said improvements had been made during state operation.  From his release:

During the course of the past year, the agency has:

Contracted with Community Mental Health Centers to provide a broad array of individual and group mental health and substance abuse treatment services at each regional juvenile treatment center. The Community Mental Health Centers now have a therapist with an office on each campus and the work done for the youth is supported by a psychiatrist via telemedicine.

Partnered with Virtual Arkansas to provide standardized curriculum used by public school systems that youth can work at their own pace with the help of online teachers and in-person educational coaches. Virtual Arkansas also provides youth with access to dual credit and coding classes, and eliminates concerns about teacher shortages at the centers’ schools.

Repurposed positions to support family engagement, created new family activities and encouraging team approach to treatment that includes families.

In addition, the DHS Division of Medical Services has retained a Medicaid consulting firm to identify and develop a plan for DHS to maximize Medicaid funding opportunities related to services offered through DYS. Some services that have been funded by State General Revenue could be provided through Medicaid providers, thus freeing state dollars to be used for innovations and community-based alternatives that will place youth in the least restrictive setting possible while maintaining public safety.

DYS also is in the process of releasing nearly $2 million in Innovation Funds grants that require organizations and judges to work together to create an innovative and individualized proposal to provide alternatives to confinement for youth in their respective judicial districts.

On Monday, the Governor approved the following actions:

A security audit of all seven centers that will identify security weaknesses and ways to address those, prior to completion of the solicitation. This will be overseen by the new DHS Chief of Security, Brian Marr, who recently left the U.S. Secret Service after more than two decades of service. Upon completion of this review, Chief Marr will conduct a similar review of the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center in Saline County.

Incorporating the results of the Medicaid funding study and plan into the solicitation for the centers and into the solicitation for community-based services, in order to address the reliance of DYS operations on state general revenue. This study will be completed in September of 2017.

An independent review of the role and work of the Division of Youth Services, similar to the review conducted by child welfare expert Paul Vincent in 2015 for the DHS Division of Children and Family Services. 

*A previous version of this post mistakenly said the state was running one juvenile lockup last year. That facility, the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center in Alexander, is managed by a private contractor, Rite of Passage.