August, 18 2018

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Wardle Academy in Wyoming Loses Funding

The future is uncertain for the Jeffrey C. Wardle Academy, the CEO of the company that runs the privately run juvenile detention and residential treatment center said.

The events and bad publicity of this summer and fall have taken their toll on its staff's morale, as well as the company's finances, said John Harrison.

DFS Pulls Funding

This summer, the Wyoming Department of Family Services announced it was removing youth undergoing drug treatment at Wardle, citing concerns for their safety.

In May, a detainee beat up one of the treatment youth, Harrison said. The state said it was unacceptable to allow the populations to mingle.

Harrison said the state had approved this particular setup when the facility was last audited and licensed: the detention wing had a couple of rooms for treatment youth who needed to be removed from the rest of the population. This is where the fight occurred.

Then a staffer was arrested for allegedly providing cocaine to detainees.

Since then, the state signed a new contract with Wardle, rolling back its monthly payment by more than $100,000. It also no longer advocates to the courts to send youth there for treatment, though the final decision is the judge's.

According to the Department of Family Services, there are 16 "DFS youth" at Wardle - four detention and 16 treatment.

Harrison said his goal is to keep the center open.

Problems if the Treatment Program is Closed

If it should close, that would put the police and sheriff in quite a bind, since the Laramie County jail is not equipped to house juvenile offenders.

Capt. Bill Long of the sheriff's department said they must be separated from the adult population by sight and sound. Violating this federal regulation means losing money.

Frontier Corrections cannot thrive on detention alone; the number of youth can range from a couple to 18. They cycle in and out quickly. No matter how many are there, it has to be fully staffed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The money is made from drug treatment - a young person can be housed there for several months. Before the new state contract, the average number of treatment youth was 55.

Wardle's Academy's Options

Harrison said one solution is to look out of state for detention and treatment youth.

Another is to have an outside firm lease and run the facility, or buy it outright. Frontier Corrections built it in 2000 for $10 million.

But Harrison wants to restore the full contract with the state. The current one expires June 30.

In seven years of operating, Harrison said, the fight was the only "substantiated incident" at Wardle.

Obstacles to Keeping State Funding

Harrison said he has proposed bringing in a consultant, a mediator and face-to-face meetings, but his requests go ignored by Department of Family Services Director Tony Lewis.

DFS spokeswoman Juliette Rule said, "As far as I know, the lines of communication are wide open."

Losing Treatment and Jobs

The squeeze on finances has forced Harrison to shut down the youth transitional living center downtown, and he has laid off 70 staffers, including 40 at the Wardle Academy.

Harrison said this has hurt morale and brought on at least six resignations: Three therapists, the treatment director, and the outreach specialist, who serves as a liaison between the center and the courts. The former director of the transitional living center, who was transferred to the Wardle Academy in another capacity, also left.

Harrison said several of these staffers said they "couldn't handle the constant negativity from DFS." He said over a three-month period, the state has visited 191 times.

"If you were a therapist and saw all this coming, would you want to be looking at another job?" Harrison asked.

In the end, the state still has a contract with Harrison.

And the state never yanked the facility's license to provide residential treatment for boys and girls. The documents hang in the lobby, authorizing Wardle to house up to eight female and 22 male detainees; 48 males and 12 females for treatment.

But the state has a smaller contract with Wardle, down from $268,000 a month to $128,000. To help plug that gap, Harrison asked for more money for detention services - for the first time in five years, he added - another $11,000 a month from Laramie County and $6,000 a month more from Cheyenne. His profit margin was 2 percent then, he said.

Under the state's new contract with Wardle, the daily rate per youth amounts to $265 a day, Rule said.

Other Treatment Options for State Placed Youth

The state pays less to other places for treatment and detention - $120 to $140 a day for each youth "at any in-state treatment facility" and $100 a day for every youth housed at the Fremont and Sweetwater county detention facilities.

"We are paying more to FCS because FCS has made it clear to us that if we pull out completely or paid the standard rate, FCS would fold," Rule said. "There is a need here for both detention and treatment services for youth, and that can't be ignored.

"... So while we're not comfortable making such a large payment, we would be less comfortable if there were no option for youth here, and in fact, that's not a viable option considering these youth are placed in DFS custody and DFS is obligated to see that their needs are met."

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