YOUTH IN LOCKUP: At the now-closed Dermot Juvenile Treatment Center in 2018. Brian Chilson/Arkansas Nonprofit News Network

Youth Opportunity Investments, the Indiana-based company that has managed four Arkansas juvenile lockups since July 2019, will end its contract with the state after June 30, 2020, Amy Webb, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, announced in a news release.

Youth Opportunity Investments’ path to managing the Arkansas juvenile facilities was full of twists in turns. In 2016, the state decided to award the contract to manage the facilities to Youth Opportunity. But South Arkansas Youth Services and Consolidated Youth Service, the two state-based nonprofits that had run the facilities for decades, successfully persuaded sympathetic legislators to block the contract, and the state was forced to take over operation of the facilities. The state ran the juvenile facilities from January 2017 until the summer of 2019, when Youth Opportunity Investments took control. But the company was only given the contract after it successfully protested the state awarding the contract to another company, Rite of Passage, which has run the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center since 2016.

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The state closed two juvenile facilities last year. Four remain (or five if you count the Mansfield facilities for boys and girls separately). DHS’ Webb, in a statement, hinted that perhaps Youth Opportunities was leaving the state because reforms had led to  fewer youths committed to the facilities. There were 246 youths in the residential treatment centers on July 1, 2019, and 236 on Feb. 12, 2020.

Here’s the release from DHS:

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Yesterday afternoon DHS received notice that Youth Opportunities Investment (YOI) will discontinue management of the four state juvenile treatment centers it runs after June 30, 2020. DHS appreciates that YOI gave the state a four-month notice because that will help us ensure an orderly transition to a new vendor for both employees of the centers and youth and their families. Since learning of YOI’s decision, we have begun discussing options for the transition. DHS expects to have more details about our path forward to a new vendor next week. YOI and DHS continue to work together, and YOI will continue to run the centers and pay staff as they have done since taking over July 1, 2019.

DHS continues to work with stakeholders and community partners to make improvements to the juvenile justice system in Arkansas, which includes the work announced in November 2018 to find ways to safely reduce lengths of stay and work with judges to ensure only youth who need residential treatment go to these centers. That work has been a significant factor in the decline in the number of youths at our residential treatment centers. We understand that having centers that are not at capacity has a financial impact on YOI. However, DHS has prioritized having youth treated in their communities when it is safe to do so because it is the right thing to do.