Advocate group monitoring Alexander juvenile center

After an increased number of reported assaults at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center in Alexander, an advocacy group, Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, is now monitoring the center.

The center has released a report about its findings but will still monitor the center, said Justin Nickels, communications specialist with the facility.

"We hope this report and the recommendations made within will help to move the discussion in the direction of creative and positive next steps toward a truly effective and humane juvenile justice system," according to the report.

Issues at the center came to light after a statewide publication reported there were 327 assaults noted in 2013. This was a 98 percent increase in assaults in 2013 in comparison to 2012, Nickels said.
"That's astounding," he said.

Victims of the alleged assaults included both children and workers, he said.

Leaders at the center say this increase reflects a change in the definition of assault.

Based on the performance-based standard model that the center is using, an assault can include "a youth who engages in horseplay with other youth, a youth who throws a shoe into another youth's room without striking them and a youth who attempts to fight another youth but is stopped by the staff," according to the report.

The average stay for a juvenile at this facility is five to 18 months, but some children have remained as long as three years. The story of one 13-year-old is included in the report.

He has been at the center for three years.

"During interviews with the center staff, he has stated that he is aware that his behavior is what is keeping him at AJATC, but no one is listening to his pleas for help," according to the report.

The report also explained issues with adhering to the inmates' schedules and not allowing inmates to use the phone as outlined in the center's policy.

Staff members also reportedly reward youth with candy bars for assaulting other inmates, according to the report.

The center concluded its report with recommendations for the state, which include researching other similar centers in other states and "reallocating funding from the Arkansas Juvenile Treatment and Assessment Center to other programs throughout the state with a demonstrated track record of effectively and safely providing services to at-risk youth."

The Disability Rights Center is an advocacy group mandated by Congress to work for those who are disabled, Nickels said.