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Official: Reopening, running Judge Riddel Boys Ranch would cost about $5.5 million

The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch is shown in November 2012.
The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch is shown in November 2012. File photo

It would cost about $5.5 million to reopen the mothballed Judge James V. Riddel Boys Ranch and run it for the next 11/2 years, a corrections official told Sedgwick County commissioners Tuesday.

Mark Masterson, the county’s director of corrections, advised against restarting the Lake Afton facility at this time and instead recommended spending $210,000 on a program to focus on providing counseling and other services to youth offenders through their families.

The ranch, which opened as an orphanage in 1961 and became a youth correctional facility in 1979, was closed by the commission last year after several years of financial struggles and a growing list of needed repairs.

But a change in the commission’s balance of power this year, following the election of former state Rep. Jim Howell, put boys ranch supporters in the majority and put the ranch back on a front burner.

At a staff meeting Tuesday, Masterson told the commission that the immediate cost of restarting the ranch program would be about $562,000.

Later, he explained that the money would be needed to restock supplies that had been removed when the ranch closed and make repairs that would be required before the facility could be re-licensed by the state.

Masterson said his figures don’t count roughly $2 million in needed sewer and heating-and-air improvements identified before the ranch was closed.

It would cost about $1.6 million in operating costs to run the facility for the last half of this year, he estimated.

Masterson said it would cost $3.3 million a year to run the ranch starting in 2016.

State payments to the county for housing the youth offenders would be about $1.3 million, leaving about $2 million in operating costs that the county would have to cover itself, he said.

He based his estimate on re-licensing the facility to hold a maximum of 49 youth, with a projected average daily occupancy of 28 boys and girls.

Masterson set the number at 28 because he thinks that’s the number of referrals it would average.

From 2006 to 2013, the average daily headcount at the ranch dropped from 48 to 32, he said.

Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau questioned Masterson’s estimate of the cost of restarting the ranch.

He said the facility was running adequately when it closed and while some repairs are necessary, “not all of it needs to be done right away.”

Ranzau said that if the county ever intends to reopen the ranch, it should do it “relatively soon” because the more time that passes, the more difficult it will get.

Both he and Howell said they have questions for Masterson that weren’t answered in Tuesday’s presentation.

“We’ll certainly be talking about it soon,” Ranzau said. “How soon we’ll make a decision, we’ll see.”

No one questions that the ranch, with enhanced education and counseling programs, was successful in turning youthful repeat offenders away from crime and toward a better lifestyle.

A Wichita State University study calculated the one-year recidivism rate for ranch graduates at 26 percent – far less than a state Department of Corrections study found in other residential programs for similar-level offenders.

But the ranch program cost $204 per youth per day to operate, and the state would only provide $126 a day to pay for it.

In the years leading up to the closure of the ranch, demand for residential placement of youth offenders was on the decline, largely because of the success of the county’s crime prevention and early intervention programs, Masterson said.

The need for programs like the boys ranch will never be completely eliminated but can be further reduced through a shift to family-focused programs, he said.

The $210,000 he’s requesting would pay for assessment of current practices, developing new policy and practices, training staff and evaluating results.

He said a large body of data shows that working with family is the best way to make a permanent change in a young person’s life.

“She may not be mother of the year, but that’s who they (youth offenders) have and that’s who they go back to” when they get out of residential corrections programs, he said.

He said his second priority would be establishing day and/or night reporting centers, where youths with a criminal history would be kept off the streets during some or all of the prime-time hours for youth crime, from the end of the school day to 8 p.m.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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