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Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners

A Word in Edgewise

By Commissioner Tim Norton

August 25, 2014

As the new year begins to unfold and the State starts to wrestle with budgets, policies and funding mechanisms for service delivery, one of the programs that is caught in the crosshairs is the Judge Riddel’s Boys Ranch located at Lake Afton in Sedgwick County.   There are multiple players trying to determine the long term sustainability, effectiveness of outcomes, level of funding needed and available, and the ultimate need when there other State providers with capacity to house the young men in State custody.

Let me start by saying that I have always been supportive of policies, programs and funding in our Juvenile Justice system.   Judge Riddel’s Boys Ranch was just one of the many comprehensive programs that the County delivered to support the juvenile justice system and to provide services to the juvenile offenders in Sedgwick County. 

Over the years I have read volumes of reports, listened to countless presentations, voted to fund and build a new juvenile detention center, and advocated for programs that affected our youth on so many levels.   I have come to understand and advocate for prevention funds that catch the youth earlier and have an impact at a lower offense level.   So many longditunal studies reinforce the impact of prevention programs as opposed to intervention and rehabilitation programs. 

Several years ago we were at a crossroads on the viability, sustainability and affordability of the Boys Ranch.   The ranch had served this population well for many years.   Like many things in business and life in general, dynamics change.  Recently, this population of youth offenders had continued to decline reducing the kids in custody.

Financial considerations are now a much bigger and controversial  part of the mix.    Measurement of outcomes compared to other YRC2 programs are in question.  Suggestions to change, strip down, or eliminate elements of the Boy’s Ranch programs and continuum of care have been offered.  Doubt that the County is efficient  in delivering  the programs at the Ranch have been raised.     Capacity of other providers in the private sector has been thrown into the mix. 

The County also must weigh in the facility upgrades and its cost into the decision making process.   In a time when State revenues and funding streams are diminishing, the long term funding mechanism for the Ranch is a critical piece to the County’s ability to maintain this juvenile program and all the wrap around services that make it unique.  The County is a Youth Residence 2 provider just like many other entities around the State.   Over the years we have been willing to support and subsidize the additional services, try to measure and document the outcomes through outside studies and audits, and be dedicated to evidence based juvenile system programs. Although there has been some movement at the State level to provide some fiscal help, recent dialogues and actions indicate that State support is lukewarm at best.

The next several weeks will be critical in the decision making process on a host of issues in the budget mix for the County.   If the Mortgage Registration Fee funding stream goes away by legislative action, the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch will not be the only County program or budget item that will have to be scrutinized. 

Thanks for letting me get a word in edgewise.

T.N.