Some young offenders sent out of Sedgwick County after boys ranch closes

08/19/2014 6:48 AM

08/20/2014 2:55 PM

Some teens who would have been candidates for the closed Judge Riddel Boys Ranch are now going to youth residential centers in Topeka, Junction City, Dodge City and Pittsburg, farther from their families.

The ranch stopped taking clients in May. Mark Masterson, director of the county’s corrections department, recently gave commissioners information about where teen boys have landed so far.

“There were lots of concerns expressed about where the boys who would have gone through that program would go, and this is the first evidence we’ve got of where the boys are going,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn.

Distance from family is one of the reasons Peterjohn and Commissioner Richard Ranzau opposed closing the ranch, a state program that the county subsidized. The county said it cost about $200 a day per boy to house and provide programming aimed at turning clients’ lives around. The state paid $126 per day per boy.

Masterson said the boys ranch had 30 clients on May 5, including 14 who were remaining for summer school and 16 who were close to completing the program or who did not qualify for summer school.

The latter group left the ranch between May 15 and 30. Ten of those boys went home. Four went to the Sedgwick County Youth Program, which is designed to serve older boys aged 16 to 22 who are making the transition from state juvenile correctional facilities to the community. One boy went to New Directions in Junction City, and one boy went to Elm Acres in Pittsburg.

The 14 boys who remained to attend summer school left the ranch July 18, according to Masterson’s memo.

Ten of those boys returned home. One went to the youth program, one to the O’Connell Youth Ranch in Lawrence, one to Ember Hope in Dodge City and one to the Salvation Army in Wichita.

Since May, 19 Sedgwick County boys who would have been candidates for the boys ranch have gone into state custody. Of those, four went to the Salvation Army in Wichita, four went to Lakeside Academy in Goddard, two to the youth program, one to New Beginnings in Topeka, one to New Directions, one to Ember Hope, one to Clarence Kelly in Topeka and one to Elm Acres. One was placed in the custody of the Kansas Department of Corrections Juvenile Services, and three were committed to juvenile correctional facilities.

Peterjohn and Ranzau, who are pushing to re-open the ranch in January, when a new District 5 commissioner will join the board, said they’re concerned about boys being away from their families.

“The advantage of JRBR is it is somewhat isolated but it’s not like you have to go the next county to get to it,” Peterjohn said.

Ranzau also expressed concern about whether the other youth centers have programming as successful as that of the boys ranch.

“What are they getting when they get there?” he asked. “Programs that will reduce recidivism? We have no evidence that they are.”

Masterson said his department determines, on behalf of the state, where boys will go.

“We perform that function for the state at Juvenile Field Services,” Masterson said. “We receive all the kids ordered into state custody. All the kids who would have gone to JRBR will be placed wherever we can find an appropriate placement that meets their needs and has availability, and that translates all over across the state.”

Masterson said his department tries to keep distance in mind.

“Of course that’s one of our first priorities,” he said. “When kids are served close to home, you’re able to maintain the connection with their school district for credit and for returning to school, with their service providers if they’re receiving a type of treatment, and you can involve their parents more actively in the program through visits and participation in the development of their case plans.”

Asked if he would be in favor of re-opening the ranch, Masterson said, “I carry out the policies that the county adopts, so if that’s what the county’s policy decision is, we will do it to the best of our ability.”

Meanwhile, three groups – Union Rescue Mission, Saint Francis Community Services and Preferred Family Healthcare – toured the ranch last week. The county has sent out a request for proposals for leasing the ranch.

Proposals are due to the county by Sept. 3. The county’s bid board will make a recommendation Sept. 11, and commissioners are scheduled to make a decision Sept. 17.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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