DCS stops sending kids to two privately-operated juvenile detention centers

The Department of Children’s Services will no longer place girls in Magnolia Academy after repeated escapes and runaways from the juvenile detention facilities in Columbia and Lewisburg, reports the Columbia Daily Herald.

More than 60 girls have run away from the Columbia home since 2011, The Daily Herald reported in August. The problem was exacerbated over the summer when two girls escaped in a stolen Magnolia Academy van and eluded police for more than two months.

DCS worked with Magnolia Academy’s parent company, ResCare of Louisville, to resolve problems, said Susan Mitchell, DCS executive director of network development. A series of corrective actions were unsustainable at the homes for low-level juvenile offenders and troubled foster children.

“We were in ongoing discussions with the parent company,” Mitchell said. “They made some progress. But it seemed like when they turned off one spigot, another one would flood the premises. It was one problem after another.

“We had open communications and worked collaboratively, but I stand by the decision to stop sending girls,” she added. “We all have precious few hours in the day. This problem continued to persist. We were continually having to put out little forest fires, little spot fires.”

The Columbia Police Department felt it was being used as a private security force for Magnolia Academy. Whenever a girl would run away, Magnolia Academy staffers were forced to call police because employees were not given authority to stop them.

“To keep the girls happy, some staffers bent the rules,” former Columbia house manager Tina Arigbe told The Daily Herald. “They let the girls use personal cell phones, allowed them to skip mandatory classes and looked the other way when they left the home unsupervised. “It’s a good decision DCS has made,” Arigbe added. “It was a real high risk in the end for the girls to continue to be sent there in Columbia and Lewisburg.”

…The Columbia home housed 12 girls at capacity. It was not equipped with a fence and had minimal security. The Lewisburg home had eight girls when full. It was plagued at the end by plumbing problems. Girls were using the bathroom in the woods for a short period of time.

“The girls were living in filthy conditions,” Arigbe said of the Lewisburg home. “Staff was out sick because of the smell out there.” Arigbe tried for months to call problems to ResCare’s attention, pointing out irregularities to her supervisors after she was hired in January 2014. She was fired July 9.

…ResCare will continue to operate a home for boys in Lewisburg, “For now,” Mitchell said. Arigbe said the same issues have been problematic for the boys. “They have runaways. Kids are not going to school. They don’t seem to care,” Arigbe said.