LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has announced a series of actions that will serve as the state’s initial steps to accelerate the transformation of the juvenile justice system and to better equip the system to meet the needs of youth in Division of Youth Services (DYS) care, their families and the judicial system, according to a news release.

“Today marks a monumental step forward for our juvenile justice system because the State is taking real action to address long-standing concerns and to fundamentally shift so that youth get individualized quality treatment in the least restrictive setting and youth’s families and communities are ready to help them when they return home,” Hutchinson said. “The plan DHS has outlined will result in a transformation of how it delivers services to these juveniles with a rebalancing between residential placement, group homes, and community-based services, and a heightened focus on family and community reintegration.”

Among the changes will be the closure of the 32-bed Juvenile Treatment Center at Dermott.

DHS has already started planning for the first phase of work to improve the system, with goals geared toward tailoring treatment plans for youth and engaging families for a youth’s return home.

“Most of the youth ordered to receive treatment from DYS were involved in non-violent offenses, and they will return to their homes and communities,” said Deputy Director Keesa Smith, who oversees all children and youth divisions. “With that in mind, Phase I efforts will focus on getting youth into treatment quickly, making sure youths’ treatment plans address their specific needs, and involving family and community partners from the beginning of the process and throughout treatment. The goal is to give everyone involved the tools to address the challenges that brought the youth to DYS so that a young person can go on to live a productive adult life.”

Initial action steps in Phase I include:Revamping the assessment process so that youth get into treatment more quickly.Moving to treatment plans that are developed by a robust treatment team and tailored to meet the needs of individual youth.Engaging family members and aftercare providers, who will ensure the youth’s successful return to the community, from the outset for treatment planning.Regularly reviewing treatment progress, required at least on three-month intervals.Providing progress reports of treatment to treatment team stakeholders.Increasing the use of group homes for youth who do not need fence-secured treatment.Merging the Colt and Harrisburg Juvenile Treatment Centers into one facility in Harrisburg.Replacing the DHS Division of Youth Services information technology system known as Rite Track.Revamping the oversight and monitoring programs to increase system integrity.Requiring performance-based outcomes for youth as part of upcoming procurements for both our juvenile treatment centers and our aftercare programs, and expanding aftercare funding by $750,000 annually.

DYS Director Betty Guhman said that although the steps outlined in this plan will take time to implement, they are just the first of many more actions the state will take to modernize the juvenile justice system over the next several years.

“We are working with the Youth Justice Reform Board, the juvenile judges, and others to identify long-term changes and improvements that can make a meaningful difference for our youth and their families,” Smith said. “We’re excited about the steps we’re announcing today and what lies ahead.”