The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services says the state should take steps to ensure there’s an option like the Iowa Juvenile Home for delinquent teenage girls who would otherwise be sent on to adult court.
Governor Branstad closed the Juvenile Home in mid-January after concerns about the use of restraints and long-term isolation at the facility. DHS director Chuck Palmer says after meeting with juvenile court officers and other experts, he estimates about 20 delinquent teenage girls need a secure facility like the Juvenile Home.
“We do need those beds,” Palmer says, but he’s not sure yet whether a privately-run facility could handle those delinquent girls, plus he says there needs to be more study about where such a facility should be located within the state.
The Iowa Juvenile Home campus was a risky environment for housing delinquents, according to Palmer.
“Anybody that’s been there and had seen the cottages — they were old, they were dormitory like with nooks and crannies, highly-inefficient places to manage,” Palmer says, “particularly (with) young women who would react to certain things and then cause chain reactions amongst their peers.”
Palmer, along with one of his top deputies, juvenile court officials and the head of the Disability Rights Iowa group that blew the whistle on problems at the Iowa Juvenile Home testified before a state senate committee late this afternoon for two hours. Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, told Palmer legislators feel as if they were intentionally left out of the decision to close the facility.
“Now we’ve got to figure out what to do next,” Bolkcom said. “Are we going to have any role in that? Is the legislature going to have any say-so about what we are going to do next?”
Palmer replied: “I’ve said I do believe we do need to put on the table a recommendation of at least 20 beds for delinquent girls.”
And Palmer said legislators would have to vote to approve spending state money in that way. Marilyn Lantz, chief juvenile court officer in the fifth judicial district, said the Juvenile Home was the “last stop” before adult court for teenage girls who were charged with serious crimes.
“The current placement for these children is not the ideal, long-term solution,” Lantz told senators. “When the facility closed, our juvenile court officers took these girls back to court and the judges made decisions based on, kind of, what’s our next-best option, understanding that’s a short-term solution. That’s not where we hope to get to.”
State officials told legislators a teenage girl at the Juvenile Home who had been classified as a “child in need of assistance” by the court was sent back to her family home, but is now missing and considered a runaway.