The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch will begin taking in juveniles from other counties to boost its census even as it prepares to possibly close next year, Sedgwick County officials say.
The ranch at Lake Afton is licensed to serve 49 boys. Last September, the county moved staff to 12-hour shifts, and the ranch’s capacity was reduced to 42.
The census has been hovering at less than 30 boys in recent months. The state requires a staffing ratio of one to seven during waking hours and one to 10 during sleeping hours.
Although the census is down, the ranch can’t reduce staff on a permanent basis because the number of boys varies.
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“What am I going to do? Lay people off one day and bring them back” in a week, asked Mark Masterson, director of the county’s department of corrections.
That wouldn’t make sense, said assistant county manager Ron Holt.
“One kid can sometimes make a difference in whether you’re properly staffed or not,” Holt said.
Because the county is paying enough staff to care for 42 boys but doesn’t have that many, it will begin accepting clients from other parts of the state. It already had opened the ranch up to counties that border Sedgwick, Holt said, though Masterson said no one had sent boys to Lake Afton yet.
The ranch will remain open through at least June 30, 2014, under the budget that commissioners approved last week. County leaders are pushing for more money from the state to operate the ranch, which is classified as a youth residential center II.
The state pays the county $126 per day per boy. The county had spent about $200 a day per boy but reduced those costs with the move to 12-hour shifts. The state gave the county a one-time grant of $750,000 in its current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
From 2001 through 2006, the average daily population at the ranch was above 48. In 2011, it was at 40, and last year at 35. Through June this year, it’s been at just less than 29.
Juveniles from Sedgwick County entering Juvenile Justice Authority custody for the first time have been on the decline. In 1999, 437 new juveniles were admitted to state custody. Last year, that number had dropped to 146.
Not all juveniles will be a candidate for the boys ranch. Some will go to the juvenile detention facility in Topeka. That leaves even fewer ranch clients.
“Empty beds are inefficient,” Masterson said.
Holt said he didn’t think the uncertain future of the ranch would affect other jurisdictions’ decisions to use the boys ranch.
“Some … are in for 60 days, some 90 days. I don’t think that will be an issue,” Holt said. “I think the bigger issue will be what’s closer to them so that they can have better access to court and family.”
Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who unsuccessfully tried to fund the boys ranch through all of next year, said he is glad the county is trying to use more of the boys ranch.
“I made that suggestion in staff meeting the other day,” Ranzau said of recruiting clients from other areas. “That’s what we need to do, and we should have done it previously. I’m very happy we’re taking that step.”