Politics & Government

Sedgwick County touts program as alternative to reopening boys ranch

The now-closed Judge James Riddel Boys Ranch at Lake Afton. (July 10, 2013)
The now-closed Judge James Riddel Boys Ranch at Lake Afton. (July 10, 2013) File photo

Sedgwick County moved farther away from reopening the shuttered Judge Riddel Boys Ranch on Wednesday.

County commissioners unanimously approved a $437,400 plan for 2016’s budget to treat juvenile offenders inside the county and intensify the way families are involved in youths’ rehabilitation.

“The proposed program does not involve reopening or funding a residential facility,” said corrections director Mark Masterson. “It’s a different method.”

County officials hope the program will serve as an effective alternative to the county operating its own youth residential facility, including reopening the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch. The ranch closed last year after the county and state could not agree on state funding levels.

“I think the ship has sailed regarding Sedgwick County opening that ranch,” said commissioner Jim Howell.

The county’s corrections department will create a five-person team to deliver behavioral programming to at-risk youth within the county. They’ll work with offenders at other youth residential facilities and after their release.

“The programming addresses criminal thinking, values and attitudes, anger management and skill-building to change behavior,” Masterson said.

The program will target male and female offenders ages 13 to 19 who are at moderate or high risk of reoffending. It is slated to start Oct. 1 with some funding coming from the 2015 budget.

Masterson hopes the program could serve around 100 youth offenders a year. The aim is to strengthen programming available for juvenile offenders inside the county.

The larger goal is to keep the youths close to home, Masterson said. The eventual aim is that 90 percent of juveniles who need a youth residential center II facility will stay at facilities inside the county.

The program will be named after Judge James V. Riddel, just like the former boys ranch.

Some county commissioners had expressed interest in reopening the ranch or opening a similar facility to keep youth offenders in the county. Former ranch residents and potential residents were sent home or to other youth residential centers in the county or across the state when the facility closed.

It would have cost $1.9 million to reopen the ranch or pay another provider to operate a facility, according to a 2016 county budget proposal from last month.

County commissioners praised the plan, calling it a way to continue the work of the boys ranch.

“The programs that we know were the most effective things at affecting recidivism out at the ranch will carry on and be expanded,” commissioner Tim Norton said.

Masterson and several commissioners emphasized the importance of strong programming provided at youth residential facilities.

“We need to have a program that keeps kids out of jail,” Howell said.

“It’s not a ranch any longer,” he said. “But it maintains the purpose of what Judge Riddel Boys Ranch provided to the community.”

The program would also include a shift to a family engagement model, which emphasizes involving the family more in the juvenile’s rehabilitation.

“We’re really seeking out to work with the families through the difficulties that cause that youth to be in the system,” Norton said.

The Riddel programming would cost the county $292,400 from its 2016 budget, mainly in personnel costs.

The shift to the family engagement model, through a professional services agreement with the Vera Institute of Justice, would cost $145,000 in 2016.

Getting the program off the ground by October will cost the county $82,190 from its 2015 budget, Masterson said.

With the ranch closed, four youth residential centers now serve the county: the Lakeside Academy in Goddard, the Riverside Academy, the Salvation Army in Wichita and the Sedgwick County Youth Program, Masterson said.

Reach Daniel Salazar at 316-269-6791 or dsalazar@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @imdanielsalazar.

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