MIAMI COUNTY — This week, Miami County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Scott Altenburger appealed once again to the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to reconsider the department’s decision to shut the doors of the West Central Juvenile Rehabilitation Center.
The 32-bed facility, which opened in 1992, had an operating budget of $1.8 million and was fully funded by DYS. The center provided rehabilitative services to youth in the Miami, Shelby, Preble, Auglaize, Darke, and Mercer counties areas. In December 2020, the center was notified by DYS that its annual funding would be ending in June 2021. The rehab center was also instructed to immediately stop accepting new youth into the program. The center, under the direction of executive director Gary Link, filed an appeal, which was denied on Feb.1. The center employs 35 staff members.
On Feb. 3, Judge Altenburger wrote Department of Youth Services Director Ryan Gies to reconsider on the basis that juvenile court judges from Shelby and Preble counties were in the final stages of months of work on new governance agreements when the abrupt decision was made by the state that funding would be terminated. Auglaize County officials had already adopted the agreement and Miami County was to review its own agreement last Thursday. Darke and Mercer county juvenile courts indicated their support to continue to send juveniles to the facility as well.
“We stopped obtaining adoption of the new multi-county governance agreement to address the appeal. In hindsight, perhaps we should have continued having our commissioners adopt the new governance agreement even after notice of termination of funds,” Altenburger said to Gies.
Altenburger requested three more weeks to obtain Shelby and Preble counties’ agreements to continue to serve as a multi-county community correction facility with a total of four counties under the agreement. Auglaize County Juvenile Court Judge Mark Spees emailed Gies his support of the reconsideration request.
On Feb. 3, in an email to Altenburger and Spees, Gies said, “I appreciate both the request for reconsideration and the work that was being done to find an agreement on a relationship between the counties. However, an agreement was one factor in our decision but not the only factor. Even with an agreement, the decision would still stand and is final.”
The following statement was provided by DYS Communication Director Jill Craig:
“The Ohio Department of Youth Services has decided to terminate the funding of the West Central Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility whenever the last remaining youth leaves, or on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, whichever comes first. DYS decided to take this action for the following reasons. The West Central Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility was designed to be a multi-county facility, but five of the six counties terminated their involvement in writing; there has been a decrease in admission numbers; the majority of youth being sent to the facility come from outside the catchment area and can have their needs met at one of the other 11 community correctional facilities (CCFs) around the state. These facilities are able to provide quality services, including sex offender programming, for these youth.”
On Wednesday, Link said the facility currently has 12 juveniles in its program, but would have had seven more had the facility not been in the middle of the appeal process. Link said if those seven youth had been admitted, the facility’s population would have been at 59 percent capacity. Link said of the 11 other youth rehabilitation facilities in the state of Ohio, 63 percent occupancy is the highest to date and West Central would have had the second to the highest youth capacity had it not been for the state’s denying its appeal to stay open.
On Feb. 3, Gies denied Miami Valley Today’s request for a phone interview regarding the decision. Miami Valley Today has made a public information request to the Department of Youth Services for all communications regarding the department’s decision to close down the West Central Juvenile Rehabilitation facility. That request was acknowledged by the DYS’s legal team on Feb. 4.
Shelby County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Jeffrey Beigel said, “Shelby County will be fine. The closure by DYS of the long-term rehabilitation program in Miami County is, however, unfortunate. For counties using the facility, it has been a valuable local asset. Shelby County averaged two to three children a year in the program, although there are none at this time. Shelby County will now be making use of its established relationships with other good programs throughout the State. The most significant impact is that the programs are located at a distance that can make it more difficult for some families to be involved, although the upsurge in the established use of video technology brought on the pandemic has helped to minimize that problem. Beigel said the supporting counties were not consulted regarding the DYS decision.
Beigel thanked Commissioner Julie Ehemann and Senator Matt Huffman for their efforts with DYS to support Shelby County’s goal of maintaining the Miami County facility.
“These rehabilitation programs are important and their efforts to preserve them when at all possible, are laudable,” Beigel said.
West Central has two divisions with the detention center housing at-risk youth and the rehabilitation center for male juvenile offenders convicted of serious felony crimes. The detention center is not impacted by this Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) decision.
In a Jan. 7 letter to Gies, Miami County Commissioners said the board has always supported the center since it opened in 1992 and would continue to do so if the state continued to fund the facility’s rehabilitation side. They also asked for consideration that the facility is next to the county’s detention facility and its impact on its services in the future.
“We understand this is not an easy decision for the department and we request that you consider the appeal and evaluate other options, short of ceasing funding to the most valuable Center,” the letter said in closing.