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Company managing 4 youth lockups in Arkansas to end contract

February 14, 2020 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Indiana company operating four Arkansas youth lockups said it will not renew its contract with the state because of the financial burden and a lack of support.

Youth Opportunity Investments LLC sent a letter to state officials on Wednesday noting that it would not continue its one-year, $15 million-plus contract past June 30, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. Youth Opportunity manages lockups in Dermott, Harrisburg, Lewisville and Mansfield.

The company kept the facilities fully staffed, raised workers’ salaries and added “unnecessary staff” to prevent front-line layoffs at the Department of Human Services Youth Services Division’s request, according to the letter signed by Youth Opportunity CEO Ronald Hunter.

“Youth Opportunity Investments has attempted at every turn in our relationship with the Division of Youth Services to show good faith in the spirit of partnership. However, as is shown by the events that have occurred during our partnership, support has not always been there from the Department of Human Services and/or the Division of Youth Services, ” the letter states.

Arkansas expected to work with the company for six more years, said Keesa Smith, deputy director for children, youth and family services at the Human Services Department. She added the state hopes to find a new company to manage the facilities and provide more expertise on the best approach for treating the children.

The state plans to announce additional details on future plans next week, according to a news release sent Thursday.

“(Youth Opportunity) has been working hand in hand with us to make the changes,” said Youth Services Director Michael Crump. “Things are getting a lot better. We plan to keep going forward with what we’ve been doing.”

Youth Opportunity’s financial issues stemmed mostly from construction that took longer than expected and facilities not being filled, its letter said. The company is paid per occupied bed.

Youth Opportunity lost close to $500,000 in July in addition to losing money every month, according to the letter.

Staffers at the jails will work for Youth Opportunity until the end of June, the state’s news release said.