LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas officials have selected a Nevada-based firm to run youth detention centers under a one-year, $15.8 million contract.
Rite of Passage has been selected to oversee juvenile lockups in Harrisburg, Lewisville, Dermott and Mansfield, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The state Department of Human Services has been managing the facilities since 2017.
Rite of Passage could take control of the facilities as soon as May, said department spokeswoman Amy Webb. Rite of Passage also has the option to renew the contract in one-year installments until 2026.
Critics and federal investigators say the state’s youth detention centers have faced a variety of problems over the past decade, such as sexual assault, substandard facilities and inadequate behavioral health treatment.
Having a private company act as the single provider to the facilities will ensure consistent and quality treatment, state officials said.
Child advocates questioned the state’s decision to privatize the operation of the facilities.
“This privatization contract raises grave concerns about the implications for the basic rights, bodily integrity, education and rehabilitation of our most vulnerable youth,” said Amy Lafont, a Little Rock attorney who works with families and children in the juvenile justice system.
Lafont also raised concerns about Rite of Passage’s history.
Rite of Passage currently manages the 120-bed Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center near Alexander, which is the state’s largest juvenile correction facility. It took over operations in 2016 through a $34 million, three-year contract.
Lafont represented a teenager who was allegedly struck by guards at the facility shortly after Rite of Passage took over. The guard was fired after state police reviewed video surveillance of the incident, according to court records.
The Alexander facility also was investigated in November for the alleged sexual assault of a teenager.