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Arkansas Juvenile Center Continues Violating Rights Despite 2003 Court Enforceable Agreement

By Bob Williams

Arkansas protection and advocacy group Disability Rights Center (DRC) reported on conditions at the Alexander Youth Services Center (Center) in 2006. The programs at the Center were determined inadequate and discriminatory in some instances and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The DRC urged that the Center be closed after the seven month investigation.
The Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Youth Services (DYS), places juveniles at the Center for rehabilitation, education and other needs in lieu of prison. The Center is a 143 bed co ed facility which houses juveniles ranging from 10 to 17 years of age. It contains a gymnasium, cafeteria, medical, education and administration buildings, six housing units and a chapel. An intake and assessment unit provides for the classification of juveniles state wide. The juvenile justice system in Arkansas has unsuccessfully attempted to meet the needs of its adolescents since 1905 when the state's General Assembly first implemented juvenile law. The Center's current chain of trouble (although it has an extensive history of trouble) began in 1998 when improper management and erroneous use assertions were made via articles in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The problems continued through 2001 when the United States Department of Justice (DOT) issued investigative findings to Arkansas Governor Huckabee under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997(a)(1), claiming constitutional and statutory rights deprivations. A 2003 agreement ensued between the United States of America, the DYS, the DHHS and the state, and was judicially approved. Various state agencies were ordered to cooperate to ensure the agreement's success.
The state then effectuated on site management through Cornell Interventions, Inc., for an initial two year contract which agreed to "pay Cornell about $13 million to do a better job... than the state could do at almost twice the cost." The DHHS anticipated "a minor windfall" to be used "to build still more juvenile detention facilities." The subsequent contractual total paid to Cornell from 7 1 02 through 6 30 07 was $55,525,778.00.
The DRC's 2006 report of the conditions highlighted such inadequacies and provisional violations as disproportionally housing disabled juveniles (40 percent), noncompliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act, improper evaluations and treatment for it's mentally retarded/developmentally challenged juveniles, inadequate and untimely medical care, inadequate family visitation and family involvement in rehabilitative procedures, withholding of records, failing to report incidents of staff abuse unless reports were directly filed with the DHHS hotline, lack of interdepartmental communication, not recognizing religious freedoms and failure to provide due process policies and operational procedures. The violations found by the DOJ were still present.
The state notified the DRC on 11 3 06 that it had cancelled it's contract with Cornell. The DRC condoned the action but declared it insufficient and urged that the Center be shut down and that the complete juvenile justice system be ordered to provide all requisite needs and services vital to juveniles' rehabilitation and care. The DRC's report can be viewed online at Source: Disability Rights Center. Inc. Nov. 2006.

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