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State reconsiders choice of provider to run juvenile lockups

March 22, 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A Nevada-based group recently awarded a nearly $16 million contract to run youth lockup facilities in the state is disqualified from winning the bid after violating the state’s request for proposal terms, Arkansas officials said.

The terms required that Rite of Passage have no terminations based on “nonperformance” in the past five years.

Rite of Passage already operates the state’s largest youth lockup in Alexander. It was selected in February for a one-year contract to run juvenile detention centers in Dermott, Harrisburg, Lewisville and Mansfield.

The other bidder, Youth Opportunity Investments LLC of Carmel, Indiana, wrote a protest letter to the state last week, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The firm argued that Colorado shut down a juvenile facility operated by Rite of Passage in August.

Edward Armstrong, director of the Arkansas Office of State Procurement, wrote a determination letter on Thursday confirming Rite of Passage “failed to meet” mandatory requirements. Armstrong cited Colorado records, which showed how Rite of Passage was subject to “immediate termination” because the “health, safety, or welfare of persons receiving services may be in jeopardy.”

Rite of Passage officials contend that the company remains in good standing in Colorado and still manages a youth alternative school and treatment center near Denver.

Regarding Arkansas, Rite of Passage Executive Director Michael Cantrell said Thursday that the company “won this contract based on the merits of our proposal” and is “exploring all procedural and legal options.”

“We will have more to say in the coming days,” he said.

Rite of Passage “has no administrative recourse” and the state’s “decision is final,” according to Scott Hardin, spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, which supervises the procurement office.

Gary Sallee, an Indianapolis attorney representing Youth Opportunity Investments, said the company “has nothing to say at this time.”

“Its protest letter speaks for itself,” he said.

After Gov. Asa Hutchinson ended a deadlock over the awarding of a previous contract, the Arkansas youth prisons in Dermott, Harrisburg, Lewisville and Mansfield have been run by the state Department of Human Services since January 2017.

Hutchinson and other state officials have said that returning the youth prisons back under private control by July is paramount to a strategic overhaul of Arkansas’ juvenile justice system.

The state’s juvenile detention centers were under federal supervision from 2003 to 2012 after authorities found civil-rights violations, child abuse, neglect, dangerous living conditions, and insufficient educational and mental-health services. Watchdog groups have distributed reports and letters, as recently as 2017, which illustrate some of those conditions continue.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com