A state lawmaker and Sedgwick County commissioners both say they want to keep Judge Riddel Boys Ranch for juvenile offenders open.
But they differ on the approach, and those differences were on display at a hearing before the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee on Thursday.
Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, criticized the commission majority for taking a neutral stand on his bill, which he says could provide the ranch with long-term funding.
“They come out today neutral,” said Howell, who is running for a seat on the county commission. “To me that’s very disappointing yet again. We’re creating our own problems here. We really need to work together.”
Commission Chairman David Unruh said at the hearing that the county supports the spirit of the bill, but he cited several concerns about it, including that the bill contains a cost-sharing plan between the state and county. Unruh has repeatedly suggested the ranch should be funded wholly by the state.
“If we have a long-term funding solution we want to keep it open. We think it’s valuable to the community, valuable to the state,” Unruh said.
But he is not rushing the creation of that solution. Unruh said the county will keep the ranch open into the summer, allowing time to tweak a bill so that it works for the county and state alike.
“We have time to make some decisions,” he said.
Secretary of Corrections Ray Roberts also asked for more time. He said the Corrections Department just collected data on all the state’s juvenile facilities in January. He said it would take time to analyze that data properly.
Howell said the commission’s neutrality hurt the cause of keeping the ranch open. On Wednesday, a perceived lack of commitment by the county was cited by some legislators as a reason to vote down a short-term funding proposal on the House floor.
Howell said the ranch does not have time to waste.
“It doesn’t. They’re at critical mass at the moment,” he said.
Howell’s bill mandates a new cost study for youth residential centers. He said the $126 per boy per day allocated by the state for facilities such as Judge Riddel is insufficient, but he wants performance measures to accompany increased funding. The county has said the cost of running Riddel is about $201 per boy per day.
Howell said clearer standards for these facilities would benefit the entire state, not just Sedgwick County.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau – in the minority with Karl Peterjohn on seeking more a more supportive county stance in the bill – also spoke at the hearing. He contended the ranch provided a good model that could be followed statewide.
He cited a study by Wichita State University that found that residents who completed the Judge Riddel program between 2006 and 2010 had a recidivism rate of 26 percent.
Roberts, the corrections secretary, said the state’s juvenile facilities do not have a standardized definition of recidivism. He also said that the Wichita State study might overstate the success rate at Judge Riddel. He said the six- to 12-month time frame used by the Wichita State study might not be a long enough time frame to accurately measure recidivism.
Roberts also confirmed that there are not statewide performance standards for facilities – though there are health and safety standards – but that his team is in the process of studying what those standards ought to be.