September 28, 2011 by Sue Madison
By Senator Sue Madison
(D) District 7
LITTLE ROCK – Last year 481 juveniles were committed to state custody in a secure detention facility. That is down from the previous year, when 531 youths were committed to a detention facility and significantly lower than the year before, when 636 youths were committed.
The youths who were committed to a juvenile lockup stayed fewer days before being released. In Fiscal Year 2011, which ended on June 30, the average stay for a juvenile sent to detention facilities averaged 132 days. In Fiscal Year 2010 the average stay was 171 days.
The Division of Youth Services operates facilities for serious juvenile offenders at Colt in St. Francis County, Harrisburg in Poinsett County, Mansfield in Sebastian County, Dermott in Chicot County, Lewisville in Lafayette County and Alexander in Saline County. The total population being housed in those facilities ranged from 711 in April to 764 in February.
The director of the Youth Services Division told legislators that a reason for the decline in commitments to secure detention facilities was that more youths were being sent to community programs. Arkansas has 13 non-profit organizations that work with at risk juveniles and delinquents. Some but not all of the programs are residential. They accept youths referred from the 28 judicial districts in Arkansas.
The director said that community organizations were able to accept more youths because of funding from the federal stimulus package and from state funds. They were able to hire an adequate number of staff to treat or monitor about 9,000 juveniles in community programs close to their homes, he said.
The juveniles committed to a detention facility are overwhelmingly male and from 15 to 17 years old.
Last year 16 percent of the youths committed were female and 53 percent were African-American. The offenses for which they were committed were felonies in 64 percent of the cases. If they were committed for misdemeanors it was likely because of repeat offenses.
Institute on Aging Receives Grant
The Institute on Aging at the state’s medical school in Little Rock, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has received a grant of $5.5 million to improve standards of care of the elderly. UAMS will collaborate with its counterparts at the Department of Geriatrics and the Center on Aging at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, which is in Oklahoma City.
Among other things, the grant will be used for research into the reasons for declining muscle and skeletal functions in the elderly, and to determine how better nutrition can counteract those declines. Also, the research will explore innovative ways to prevent heart and skeletal muscle weakness.
The Institute on Aging was established with a $28.8 million gift from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Another gift of $33.4 million in 2009 allowed the institute to expand.
Bids for Highway Projects Opened
The Arkansas Highway Commission opened bids for 19 projects totaling $120.7 million. They include work on about 10 miles of Interstate 40 near the White River that flooded earlier this year, forcing motorists to take detours of more than a hundred miles.
The projects also include building an 8.5 mile bypass around Monticello, which is significant because it represents the first construction project in Arkansas on what eventually will be Interstate 69 across the southeast corner of the state. The chairman of the Highway Commission called the contract a “monumental” development.
If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, please call me at 479-442-2997.