From the beautiful hallways of your historic state Capitol, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The closing of the juvenile treatment center at Colt, in St. Francis County, was part of a statewide transformation of the Arkansas juvenile justice system.
Last year the state contracted with a national consultant for a thorough review of the system. It was evident that our policy of simply locking up troubled teenagers was not working.
While the experts reviewed the Arkansas juvenile justice system, a task force called the Youth Justice Reform Board worked on legislative solutions.
Armed with the results of their work, the legislature approved a broad change in how juvenile offenders are sentenced.
The result will be that Arkansas will place less emphasis on locking adolescents in secure facilities, and focus more resources on less restrictive programs that keep troubled teenagers closer to their families.
One of the most noticeable differences will be that juvenile judges will rely on sentencing guidelines that are uniform throughout the state. Previously, juveniles from some regions were locked up for relatively minor offenses, such as skipping school or vandalism. Sometimes, they were locked up with serious offenders.
Instead of being sentenced to secure lock-ups far from their homes, more juveniles will stay with their families and report every evening to officials at a local center. They will have to attend drug treatment, and perform community service.
People who work with juvenile offenders will implement what is called a “validated risk assessment system.”
In other words, a judge will not lock up a juvenile offender unless there is clear evidence that the youth poses a risk to other people, or to himself.
Working with juvenile offenders is extremely challenging. It’s a tragedy when a young person throws his or her life away. That’s why we keep working to improve the system, and why any progress we make is well worth the effort.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.