BATESVILLE, Ark. (AP) — A juvenile detention facility synonymous with neglect and abuse is to be shuttered and the building transformed into a treatment center for sex trafficking survivors, officials said.
White River Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Batesville will close by this summer, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Jonathan Pickering, facility director, said the new center will provide youths who were forced into the sex trade with at least three individual and three group therapy sessions a week. Pickering added that families can join the sessions too, and facility staff will provide or arrange for transportation if necessary.
The facility has a storied history. In April, a former White River jailer was sentenced to seven years in prison for what a judge called “sadistic and completely unjustified” punishments for disorderly juveniles. Another was imprisoned in March for violating youths’ rights and falsifying documents.
“What was going on out there — we don’t want that to ever happen again,” said County Judge Terry Griffin.
Major incidents at the Batesville facility, including assaults, verbal threats and escape attempts, had substantially decreased, according to a 2018 facility report. In 2012, the county reported 1,283 serious incidents, but in 2018, there were 73.
The number of young people reoffending also fell, with the reoffending ratio at 91% in 2012 compared to 18% in 2018.
Pickering credits the improvement to changes in culture and administrative values, specifically the use of positive support as opposed to punishment.
“The truth is, juvenile detention just doesn’t work,” Pickering said.
Dorcy Corbin, a longtime Pulaski County juvenile public defender, expressed cautious optimism about the facility’s transformation.
“We know that locking up children is not the way to help kids succeed,” she said. “These are our children. We owe it to them to do what we can to help them achieve their full potential.”
Corbin added that it will be vital to track outcomes from the new programs and she hopes that county officials prioritize assisting the kids instead of generating revenue.