Locked in Masquerade
One simple fact has gone unmentioned during the recent furor about the overcrowding crisis at Arizona's juvenile corrections facilities: The agency responsible for administering those facilities helped manufacture the crisis.
State records show that even as U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bilby considered sanctioning the state for overcrowding its juvenile centers, the state Department of Juvenile Corrections was abruptly canceling contracts with private juvenile facilities that could have handled many youths crowded into the state-run facilities.
After canceling those contracts, some of which had been in effect for years, the department steered juvenile detention business worth potentially millions of dollars to another private contractor--a contractor that employs two former state officials as executives.
The contract juggling does not appear to have been an attempt to quickly solve the overcrowding problem. Even when the new agreement was in force, the juvenile corrections department did not immediately use many of the private beds available to ease the overcrowding of state detention facilities.
And as it manipulated contracts and aggravated overcrowding, the juvenile corrections department stretched the limits of, and may have violated, state purchasing laws.
Overcrowding is hardly an unknown condition at Arizona's juvenile centers. In 1993, Arizona agreed to limit the numbers of young offenders housed in its three juvenile corrections institutions. That agreement--in legal terms, a consent decree--was signed to settle a lawsuit over unconstitutional conditions at the juvenile facilities.
Simple head counts at the juvenile institutions made it clear early this year that the state was violating the consent decree. Unless there was quick action to ease the overcrowding at the state's three juvenile institutions, the state would almost certainly face court sanctions.
But there was no action. Instead, the juvenile corrections department continued not to use private space that was available to alleviate overcrowding in state juvenile institutions.
It is difficult to know precisely what motives the Symington administration might have for allowing--perhaps even encouraging--a federal-state confrontation over Arizona's juvenile justice system.
But there certainly has been confrontation.
After Judge Bilby ruled that the state had violated the consent decree, the Department of Juvenile Corrections immediately stopped accepting new offenders that juvenile court judges had committed to state care.
Legislators, bureaucrats, judges, prosecutors and the governor began arguing loudly over competing plans for juvenile justice reform. The crisis even managed to shatter the previously rock-solid alliance between two tough-on-crime Republicans: Governor J. Fife Symington III and Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley.
Last week, Romley filed suit, hoping to force Symington to order juvenile corrections to accept young offenders committed to state institutions. Symington has harshly criticized the suit and Romley's motivations for filing it.
The political struggle between Symington and Romley, when combined with the Department of Juvenile Corrections' manipulation of contracts to aggravate overcrowding, has potentially devastating consequences.
For one thing, the overcrowding crisis has greatly increased the likelihood that dangerous youths who should be removed from society for treatment or rehabilitation will instead remain free.
"If these kids get pushed out into the community because there are no beds available, then you're playing Russian roulette, not only with their lives, but with the lives of innocent victims in the community," says Maricopa County Presiding Juvenile Judge John Foreman.
"I think that is reprehensible."
Arizona's juvenile courts commit more than 100 young offenders a month to the juvenile corrections department for incarceration in the state's three detention facilities--Adobe Mountain Juvenile Institution, Black Canyon Juvenile Institution and Catalina Mountain Juvenile Institution.
The length of stay varies widely, from a few weeks to years, depending on the type of offense committed. But all children must be released no later than their 18th birthday.
After spending a few months in the state institutions, many youths are transferred to private residential treatment centers, opening up the state's institutional space for newly committed youth. The private centers are expected to offer whatever additional supervision and treatment offenders might need before returning to their communities.
At least, that is how the system worked until late last year. That is when Pauline H. Don Carlos started wondering why the beds at her residential treatment center in the small town of Dewey were going unused.
Don Carlos was perplexed. She had a contract with the Department of Juvenile Corrections to provide juvenile counseling and rehabilitation services in her secure facility.
"The trend was for a long time that we would have eight or nine girls from the department," Don Carlos says.
But the department suddenly quit sending girls to Mingus Mountain Estate Residential Center, one of the few private facilities in the state with locked rooms that could house violent or escape-prone offenders.
"They have not placed any girls with us since about November," Don Carlos says. The facility could hold more than 40 girls and has eight locked cells.
Don Carlos, a former juvenile corrections department psychologist, knew that the department's three juvenile corrections institutions were holding more youths than allowed under a federal consent decree signed by state officials in May of 1993.
And she was not alone in wondering why the juvenile corrections department had stopped sending her children from the department's overcrowded institutions.
Other private youth-treatment centers across the state were also experiencing a significant and sudden drop-off in the number of children sent to their facilities.
"We had open beds," says David Miller, who runs La Hacienda, a Tucson residential treatment center.
The juvenile corrections department had a contract with La Hacienda reserving a block of ten beds.
"It had been running full through December, [but] in January and February they utilized about half," Miller says. "In March, they came in and canceled the block."
The department revoked the contract with La Hacienda just weeks before Judge Bilby ordered the state to reduce the juvenile population in its institutions--from 624 to 542--within a month or face contempt-of-court charges.
The timing of the department's cancellation of bed space at La Hacienda puzzled Miller.
"You have to wonder what in the world was going on," he says.
State records show clearly what was going on: The Department of Juvenile Corrections had embarked on a plan to slash the use of private beds--at least, those supplied by certain contractors.
During a January 17 staff meeting, the department decided to begin canceling block purchases of bed space that had been reserved with flat monthly payments. Instead, the department would now offer fee-for-services contracts--meaning that contractors would be paid only when juveniles were sent to them.
The rationale for making the contract changes seems to be at odds with reality.
State records show that the juvenile corrections department canceled existing youth-treatment contracts because, the department claimed, there was a lack of children in the state's three institutions available for private referrals.
Yet the state institutions were clearly overcrowded. Those institutions were about to be sanctioned in federal court for that overcrowding. And there were private facilities across the state, just waiting for juvenile offenders to house.
Juvenile corrections officials offer a variety of reasons the department has cut back on the use of certain private vendors. Officials say some of the vendors were doing a poor job. In other instances, the officials say, the services offered didn't match the needs of youth coming out of the institutions. In the case of Mingus Mountain, department officials say, the facility was located in an area too remote to provide services.
State records and interviews with private providers make it clear that the juvenile corrections department pursued its new contracting policies vigorously.
The department changed the contract for Florence Crittenton Services of AZ, Inc., from a block contract for six beds--the cost was $21,000 a month--to a fee-for-services contract in late January.
Even after the contract was changed, the department did not utilize the facility's beds, says Linda Volhein, executive director of Florence Crittenton Services.
"We just didn't get any referrals," she says.
Another agency on the department's hit list was Open-Inn, a Tucson residential treatment center that had a block contract for eight beds.
"They were using them at only 50 percent of capacity," says Darlene Dankowski, director of Open-Inn, which has provided services to the juvenile corrections department for 15 years.
Dankowski says she contacted department officials and talked to parole officers who kept assuring her throughout the winter that more children would be coming.
They never appeared.
"The next thing I know, they [corrections officials] are going to cut our block," she says.
On March 6, a month before Judge Bilby ruled against the state, the juvenile corrections department scaled back its block purchase at Open-Inn from eight to four beds, once again claiming a lack of eligible children.
"I could not figure out what was going on," she says. "They knew they were going to be in violation [of the consent decree]. They had kids in there they had to get out. Why weren't they referring them?"
The sudden shift in the department's contracting policy also worked against a private vendor who had invested more than $30,000 in upgrading a residential treatment center based on oral promises of a future block purchase for five beds.
The department confirmed there was an understanding that it would sign a contract with a firm known as Youth ETC, but officials say they decided not to go forward because the project was not completed when promised.
Youth ETC executive director Dick Geasland is outraged by the department's decision not to move forward. But the oral arrangement he had with juvenile corrections raises its own questions about the contracting policies of the department.
Numerous contracting problems were uncovered in the department during a 1994 Department of Public Safety investigation. DPS found the juvenile corrections department frequently violated state procurement laws--in some instances by promising work to certain vendors without following procurement regulations.
If some private providers remain puzzled and disappointed by the state's new contracting policies for juvenile detention, at least one man should be tickled green by them.
Boyd Dover, a former deputy director of the state Department of Health Services, has a multimillion-dollar state contract nearly within his grasp.
While the Department of Juvenile Corrections was slashing contracts with many of its private providers, it was making an unusual, noncompetitive offer, worth more than $2 million a year, to a firm headed by Boyd Dover.
Juvenile corrections officials initiated discussions with Dover, executive director of the Desert Hills treatment center, in late January or early February. Dover says those talks were meant to determine whether Desert Hills could provide the state with 51 beds and extensive treatment services for juveniles.
"They asked if we could be able to develop certain kinds of programs for the kids, and we said yes," Dover explains.
Dover would certainly seem to have the experience to develop such programs.
He served as Pima County director of juvenile courts in the mid-1970s and then worked for the state Department of Health Services in two stints between 1979 and 1991. He served as deputy director of the department during the administration of then-governor Bruce Babbitt but resigned when Evan Mecham became governor. He returned to DHS during the Rose Mofford administration, serving as director of DHS' behavioral health division.
While director of behavorial health, Dover served on the Governor's Select Commission on Juvenile Corrections, where he learned in detail the enormous problems facing the state's juvenile justice system. Dover left state service for good in 1991 and moved to Tucson, where he ran a consulting business.
Desert Hills offered Dover the job as its executive director last summer; he began work in September. The offer came shortly after Desert Hills' owners had entered into a five-year option to be sold to Youth Services International. Until the option is executed, YSI has a management agreement to run Desert Hills.
While the juvenile corrections department was talking to Dover, it also contacted YSI's Phoenix affiliate, Parc Place, and negotiated a deal to secure 20 juvenile beds. YSI purchased Parc Place in 1994.
Dover isn't the only former state official to be hired by YSI. Jon McCaine resigned as the juvenile corrections clinical services administrator on February 16 and went to work for YSI.
McCaine's duties at the department included developing specialized treatment programs and awarding contracts to private vendors. McCaine's experience in these areas will come in handy at his new job at YSI, where he is developing treatment programs for the company.
McCaine's sudden resignation didn't terminate his relationship with the department. The juvenile agency--with permission from the attorney general--signed a $4,800 consulting contract with McCaine on April 18. The contract will allow McCaine to finish his state work while he's employed with YSI.
On the surface, it seems reasonable for Arizona to choose the Owings Mills, Maryland, company as a juvenile corrections provider. YSI has landed state contracts in Iowa, Maryland, Texas and other states to run juvenile incarceration and treatment centers.
The publicly owned, for-profit corporation has expanded rapidly since it was founded in 1990 by the former owner of Jiffy Lube, W. James Hindman. The company now operates 4,000 beds in 19 juvenile centers across 12 states.
Its rapid expansion has caught the eye of Wall Street investors, which have sent the company's stock soaring in recent weeks. YSI earned $2.2 million on $53.1 million in revenue last year.
But the way in which YSI obtained its contracts seems, at least, unusual.
After receiving positive receptions from Desert Hills and Parc Place, state records show, the juvenile corrections department requested an emergency waiver in state contracting rules.
There was no time, the department claimed in a January 29 letter to the state Procurement Office, to follow normal bidding rules for the contracts it wanted to award to YSI's Arizona affiliates.
After all, the juvenile corrections department faced a dire overcrowding emergency in its institutions.
Of course, the department did not tell purchasing officials that it helped create that emergency by canceling contracts with other providers.
After helping to create a shortage of private beds, the Department of Juvenile Corrections obtained permission from confused state procurement officials to hand out no-bid, three-year emergency contracts for private beds to Parc Place and Desert Hills. Those contracts could have been worth up to $9 million.
But the emergency contracts, awarded three weeks before Judge Bilby issued his order to reduce institutional population, did not solve the overcrowding problem.
And once New Times began inquiring about the contracts, state procurement officials revoked the emergency and ordered the department to offer the contracts for competitive bids.
Here's what happened:
Twelve days after the department began canceling contracts with residential treatment centers, it asked the state Procurement Office for emergency authority to contract for juvenile bed space without going through the normal competitive bidding process.
Juvenile corrections assistant director Fran Gonzalo said the department immediately needed up to 72 private "secure detention beds" to house juvenile parole violators who were being sent back to the department's overcrowded institutions. Accepting those youths would violate the consent decree on population limits.
The emergency was so dire, the department said, that it wanted to award a no-bid, three-year contract worth $7.5 million.
The state Procurement Office granted the emergency contracting authority to juvenile corrections on March 9, but did so under the mistaken impression that the contract was for $2.5 million over three years, state records show.
A month later, juvenile corrections made a major change in the scope of the emergency. Instead of needing "secure detention beds"--beds that could only be provided by a handful of private vendors--the department changed the scope of the contract to include nonsecure beds as well.
The revision raised doubts among other private contractors that there really was an emergency.
The reason for their doubts is simple: The department already had more than 20 contracts with private providers for nonsecure beds and was drastically cutting back on using them.
"I have a hard time seeing how it could be an emergency when they canceled commitments for the same level of care that were equal to or greater than the same beds" they were seeking, says La Hacienda's David Miller.
The state Procurement Office, however, approved the expanded plan on March 6. With the emergency procurement authority in hand, the department quickly reached agreements with Desert Hills and Parc Place on March 14 to provide services to the department.
No contracts were ever signed. Instead, the department simply issued purchase orders for the state to pay Desert Hills $592,855 for 51 beds and Parc Place $239,680 for 20 beds through June 30.
Department records show the agency expected the two contractors to continue providing the department services after June 30. The value of the agreements could reach $9 million over three years. The Parc Place purchase order even notes that the department planned to pay the firm $817,000 during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The no-bid purchase-order arrangement apparently came to an end last week after New Times began inquiring about it.
John Timko, the acting state procurement director, revoked the department's authority to enter into an emergency agreement with the two firms.
"There no longer exists the need for a three-year emergency contract," Timko says.
Instead, Timko says he directed the department on April 29 to conduct a competition for the long-term contracts. The department agreed and on May 1 asked the state Procurement Office to prepare a competitive bid for the services now provided by Desert Hills and Parc Place.
This spring's exercise in obtaining emergency procurement powers and waiving bidding rules did little to immediately address overcrowding in the institutions.
In fact, the department failed to fully utilize the 51 beds at Desert Hills that became available on March 18. Three weeks later, as Judge Bilby ordered the department to reduce overcrowding, nearly half of Desert Hills' beds were empty.
Dover says Desert Hills and the department never expected to immediately fill the beds, even though they were awarded under an emergency contract granted on the premise that the beds would be used immediately.
"We busted our butt, and we got ready," Dover says. "We jointly agreed to transition the kids in slowly."
Desert Hills did not want to suddenly accept 51 juveniles because of the stress it would put on the facility and the youth.
"It would be just too explosive," Dover says.
Six weeks after the emergency agreement was signed, has Desert Hills reached capacity?
"No," says Dover. "The numbers go up and down."
A hallmark of the Symington administration has been its willingness to engage in public battle with federal courts. Symington called for the impeachment of U.S. District Court Judge Carl Muecke after the judge found the state in contempt for failing to abide by a consent decree the state had signed in regard to its adult prisons.
In the case of juvenile corrections, Symington has repeatedly blamed Judge Bilby for creating the overcrowding crisis.
Beyond continuing Symington's push for "states' rights" in judicial matters, it is unclear what motivations might underlie the Symington administration's actions in regard to the juvenile corrections crisis.
Some Symington detractors suggest that the administration wanted to throw the juvenile justice system into chaos, believing that would help the governor in his effort to place an initiative on the November election ballot to force massive changes in the state juvenile justice system.
The centerpiece of the governor's reform plan--which the Legislature has turned down and many of the state's juvenile judges and prosecutors vehemently oppose--is the mandatory referral of children who are older than age 15 and accused of violent crimes to adult court. County attorneys currently have discretion to ask for a hearing before a juvenile judge to determine whether a youth should be tried as an adult.
Whatever its motivations, it is clear the Symington administration has done remarkably little to quickly address the overcrowding problem at the state's juvenile facilities.
"It doesn't appear in my opinion that ADJC [the juvenile corrections department] is doing everything they can as expeditiously as they could to try to resolve this problem," says Frank Carmen, director of juvenile justice services in the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The overcrowding crisis--created in part by the juvenile corrections department's manipulations of private contracts--is already pushing the juvenile justice system to send more youths to adult court. Other consequences wait not too far in the wings.
"The net effect of what is happening to the department will be to fulfill the philosophy behind the initiative that you can solve the juvenile crime problem by transferring it to the adult court," says Maricopa County Presiding Juvenile Judge John Foreman, who opposes Symington's reform initiative.
Despite the initiative's tough-on-crime connotations, sending juveniles to adult court has not been particularly tough on juveniles. Nearly 70 percent of the 565 youths handled by adult courts last year ended up with probated sentences. If the youngsters had been handled by the juvenile justice system, most would have faced tougher consequences, Foreman says.
Prolonging the overcrowding of juvenile corrections facilities also places pressure on the juvenile courts to be very selective in whom they commit to those institutions.
The courts say they are committing only those youths who are dangerous to themselves and others, and there are ways to review cases where children appeared to have been wrongly committed. But ironically, officials in the Symington administration claim judges are committing too many youths who should not be held in state institutions, and assessing sentences that are far too lengthy.
The continued overcrowding of the state's juvenile facilities raises one possible consequence juvenile judges clearly want to avoid: releasing dangerous youths before their sentences are served.
Rather than allow such releases, the courts are discussing the possibility of flying juveniles out of state--to Youth Services International facilities, if necessary.
Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley's lawsuit is meant to break the juvenile justice logjam, forcing Symington to order juvenile corrections to take those youths committed by juvenile judges. If Romley wins the lawsuit, the state runs the risk of being held in contempt by the federal court should it violate the population limits.
The lawsuit may have served some of its purposes. The department announced last week that it has reduced its population below the federal court-ordered level--making it in full compliance with the consent decree.
"We have beds available," department spokesman Steve Meissner says.
But there is a large backlog of youth awaiting transfer to the juvenile corrections' three institutions.
More than 40 boys and a handful of girls are spending their nights on the floor at Maricopa County's Durango Juvenile Detention facility.
Each evening, the kids there--dressed in yellow, red, white and blue tee shirts that signify ranks, based on behavior in custody--pull mattresses stacked in closets onto the floor of an activity room.
The room is quiet. The youngsters, many of whom have committed serious crimes, cannot talk without permission of their unit directors.
Some of the juveniles, who range in age from 10 to 17, are waiting for hearings before juvenile court judges.
Others soon will be released back into their communities.
A handful is waiting to be transferred to one of the juvenile corrections department's institutions for a lengthy stay.
With no place to go, the kids end up in the county's two juvenile detention centers--centers designed to hold kids for an average of two weeks. Those kids awaiting transfer to the juvenile corrections department's institutions may be here a long while.
How long, no one knows.
"We expect this overcrowding to continue for months," says Cheri Townsend, Maricopa County's juvenile probation officer.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.