AR youth services problems

There is something rotten in the state’s Youth Services Division. A stench that once again gives the public reason to distrust governmental agencies – especially with the care of the state’s most troubled teens.
In 1998 the Youth Services Division made headlines as reporters uncovered rampant physical and sexual abuse by those entrusted with the
youths’ care. In 1999, the state legislature passed a series of laws addressing those abuses and authorized the state Department of Health and Department of Correction to make surprise inspection visits. In 2000 a second series of Democrat-Gazette articles detailed ongoing problems at the YSD. That article included a five-year plan for improvement by Russell Rigsby, the division’s head.
In 2001 Rigsby championed a 50-page bill to the state legislature addressing needed changes, such as limiting physical contact and mechanical restraints. However his bill also includes a few surprises he did not mention to the legislative sponsors: Elimination of surprise inspection visits and the legalization of lying.
Senate Bill 860 would allow the agency to retain records of minors for research purposes, even after receiving court orders to expunge those records. SB860 then mandates that employees “shall not acknowledge the existence of records as to a particular juvenile and shall lawfully answer any inquiry or subpoena by stating no records exist.” Just what troubled youths and their hurting families need … a law increasing their distrust of those in authority over them.If senate bill 860 is passed without correcting these moral flaws, it will still be wrong for a 15-year-old kid to lie, cheat and steal, but the people entrusted with correcting his or her actions will have a legal sanction for lying.
The lies will not just be to the youths, but to the courts who entrusted them to the agency and then trusted that the agency would expunge the records of a mis-spent youth. For many youths, an expunged record of misdeeds done as a minor gives them a second chance with a clean record as an adult.
As a society concerned about the downward spiral of morals, we do not need record keepers mandated to respond to inquiries about a specific set of files with, “We do not have that record” knowing that the files exist. The state also does not need to eliminate the role of the Department of Health and the Department of Correction as watchdogs over a system that only three years ago was failing our youths so miserably. No governmental agency should ever be exempt from checks and balances of their power.
The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mike Everett, D-Marked Tree and Rep. Joe Carson, D-Fort Smith, House were both unaware of the controversial provisions. They both trusted that the agency writing the bill would give them a complete and accurate summary of the bill’s provisions. As Everett said in his response, “I rely on agency directors to tell me what’s in there.”
They are consistently unreliable. Perhaps the representatives need to remember that if and when the bill is brought to vote in the House or Senate in the future.