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An Indiana company on Monday took over responsibility for operating four of Arkansas' youth lockups, the Arkansas Department of Human Services announced.

The state in March awarded Youth Opportunity Investments of Carmel, Ind., a $15.8 million, one-year contract to operate the lockups in Dermott, Mansfield, Harrisburg and Lewisville.

The contract had initially been awarded to a different company, Rite of Passage of Minden, Nev., but that company was disqualified after state officials learned about problems with one of its lockups in Colorado.

Rite of Passage, which runs the state's youth lockup in Alexander, has filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court challenging the disqualification.

The Alexander facility also serves as the central processing operation for the court-involved youth who have been committed to state custody.

Transferring control of the lockups to a private contractor is part of an overhaul of the juvenile justice system, announced by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in November, that also included closing another lockup in Dermott and one in Colt.

The state took control of the detention centers in January 2017 after the Legislative Council declined to "review" an earlier contract that Youth Opportunity had won to manage them.

The council, which meets when the Legislature is not in session, in May also declined to review the company's new contract, but Hutchinson decided to move forward with it anyway.

Tom Masseau, director of Disability Rights Arkansas, said he's willing to give Youth Opportunity Investments the benefit of the doubt, but he noted that some of its executives previously worked for G4S Youth Services of Tampa, Fla., which operated the Alexander center from 2007 to 2016.

"We did not have a positive outcome in working with G4S when they were running the Alexander center," said Masseau, whose group has federal authority to monitor the treatment of youths with disabilities.

He said the state should visit the lockups at least once a month to check on the youths' welfare.

In the release the Human Services Department said its Youth Services Division will be making quarterly and annual visits, as well as "ad hoc visits when the agency receives complaints."

Such complaints can be submitted via email to DYSComplaints@dhs.arkansas.gov, the department said.

Metro on 07/02/2019

Print Headline: Firm takes over 4 youth lockups

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