2 Arkansas groups plan to challenge youth services contract

Two Arkansas organizations that have been operating seven of the Youth Services Division facilities across the state said they will protest a decision by the Department of Human Services to award the contracts that they now hold to an out-of-state company that plans to charge more for its services.

Protests are due by Friday.

During a recent legislative committee meeting on children and youth matters, interim Youth Services Director Betty Guhman said the state would increase its per-bed rate from $147 a day to about $232 under the new contract. The facilities collectively contain 249 beds. According to the Office of State Procurement, the new contract is worth more than $159 million a year.

According to responses to Freedom of Information Act requests to the Office of State Procurement and to the Department of Human Services, Youth Opportunity Investments LLC of Indiana scored the highest on a bid evaluation for the facilities.

However, no documents exist that explain how evaluators arrived at the total technical score on a list of categories and points possible for each category, as defined in the state’s request for proposals.

“Whatever was provided to [the Office of State Procurement] as our technical score is all we would have had,” said Amy Webb, a spokesman for the Department of Human Services.

Evaluators, chosen by the department, met in a room for several hours to score each bidder, she said.

“It’s my understanding that they don’t take notes in there, but if they do, those notes are not kept,” she said.

Magnolia-based South Arkansas Youth Services did not score high enough on its technical proposal for its price to be considered, according to the released documents. It scored a 341 out of 700 possible points in its points-weighted technical score.

According to the state’s request for proposals, bidders that did not receive a minimum of 350 points on the weighted technical score “shall not move forward in the solicitation process, and pricing shall remain sealed and shall not be scored.”

Pricing accounted for another 300 possible points. The maximum possible score was 1,000.

Technical proposals were scored in six subsections by the evaluation committee. The subsections were: general information, facility usage, safety and security, education, therapy and treatment, and staffing. No documentation exists that would explain how any of the bidders scored in those categories or within subsections of those categories.

“I’m a little perplexed about it because all of our programs are all accredited, all the DYS audits have been good, the Health Department audits have been good,” said Jerry Walsh, chief executive of South Arkansas Youth Services. “They throw in all that money — it’s unbelievable.”

Walsh currently runs the Dermott Juvenile Correctional Facility and juvenile treatment centers in Dermott, Lewisville and Mansfield. There are separate treatment centers for males and females in Mansfield.

Consolidated Youth Services Inc. of Jonesboro received a technical score of


“We were quite surprised at not being a successful bidder,” said Bonnie Boon, executive director of Consolidated Youth Services Inc. “We felt like we had an excellent technical proposal, and we believe our cost proposal should have been considered the most competitive.”

Boon runs juvenile treatment centers in Colt and Harrisburg.

South Arkansas Youth Services was established in 1977. Consolidated Youth Services has been offering programs for the past 19 years.

Donnie Savage, the owner of Pine Bluff-based DRS Services, said he did not plan to protest the department’s decision. DRS Services received a score of 228 points. It does not currently operate a facility.

Youth Opportunity Investments, the winning bidder, scored 380 on its technical-services proposal.

Webb said there are no investigations into the performance of the in-state organizations already running the facilities.

Keesa Smith, deputy director of the Human Services Department, told lawmakers last week that she could not discuss the differences among the bids.

She also said that Mark Storey, chief financial officer of the department, was looking into efficiencies to pay for the increased rates.

Webb also said the department has been looking at contracts, streamlining processes, fraud monitoring and other areas to save money, but there isn’t one specific cost-saving measure that’s related the new contract.

The department’s decision follows a change in management of its Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center near Alexander from Florida-based G4S to Rite of Passage of Nevada.

That facility is for the state’s most serious juvenile offenders.

Rite of Passage submitted a more expensive proposal than G4S, but Marq Golden, assistant director of residential operations at the Youth Services Division, told lawmakers in July that Rite of Passage’s proposal scored “much stronger” in terms of treatment services and an educational component than G4S’ proposal. That contract went into effect Aug. 1.