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Some worry Iowa Juvenile Home's closing cuts girls' options

Some worry Iowa Juvenile Home's closing cuts girls' options

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DES MOINES — Some court officials worry that the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home has created an unequal system in which girls don’t have the same opportunities as boys.

Some juvenile court officials are concerned that Iowa lacks a proper facility for delinquent girls who commit crimes, the Des Moines Register reported. The state continues to operate a home for delinquent boys at the State Training School in Eldora.

The Iowa Juvenile Home was closed in January after questions were raised about the treatment of teens, including the use of isolation cells and a lack of educational opportunities.

Chief Juvenile Court Officer Ruth Frush of the First Judicial District told the State Council on Human Services that the closing has created an unequal system in the state.

Since January, 33 girls might have been candidates for the juvenile home. Three were sent out of state and three were moved to adult court. The others were sent to youth shelters, mental health treatment centers and other facilities.

Frush said Iowa now lacks a program with the appropriate level of care for delinquent girls. She said she’s not necessarily campaigning for a new state home for these girls.

“What we are saying is that this level of care needs to be in a secure environment and it needs to have mental-health components — including trauma-informed care and access to a psychiatrist. And it needs to be gender-specific — for girls, obviously,” Frush said.

Gov. Terry Branstad’s spokesman, Jimmy Centers, defended the current system. Centers said the girls are being served more effectively now by privately run care facilities.

“Gov. Branstad is committed to ensuring Iowa responsibly meets the needs of delinquent youth in Iowa,” Centers said.

Iowa Juvenile Court Services Association President Emilea Lundberg said last year that community-based facilities might not be able to help delinquent girls.

“We do have private facilities, but the girls who were being sent to the Iowa Juvenile Home were those who had already failed in those types of settings,” she said.

State Court Administrator David Boyd said Iowa usually has no more than 20 delinquent girls that need housing at any one time. Lawmakers will work with the governor to decide the best way to provide services.

Nathan Kirstein of Disability Rights Iowa said state officials should do more research about the situation before deciding what to do. Understanding how many girls are being sent out of state for treatment now and how many were sent to those facilities while the Iowa Juvenile Home was open will be important.

Kirstein said at least one neighboring state, Missouri, decided a home for delinquent girls wasn’t needed.

“All of the girls in the (Missouri) state juvenile system are provided services in more community-based treatment settings — including some of the girls with more violent offenses,” he said.

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