Two Arkansas companies that operate seven Youth Services Division facilities submitted protests Friday to the state’s intention to award a contract to run the facilities to an out-of-state company that has said it will charge the state more than the current operators charge. Bidders have 14 days to submit a protest after learning of an alleged flaw in the process.2 protest youth services contract; ‘robbed’ of fair shot, current operator’s letter to state says
Every seven years, the state is required to seek proposals from organizations interested in operating the juvenile treatment and juvenile offender facilities. Department of Human Services spokeswoman Amy Webb said it has been eight years since bids were taken because of a previous one-year extension. Youth Opportunity Investments of Carmel, Ind., proposed charging the state $232 per bed per day, up from the $147 the state pays now per day for each of the 249 beds in the facilities.
Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, whose district includes the Mansfield facilities, said Friday he has “a great deal of concern” about the plan to switch to an out-of-state provider at greater cost to the state. The current operators “have not received a dime’s increase in three years,” he said.
Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, chairman of the Senate Children and Youth Committee, also said she has questions. “A lot of the intake providers have been asking for more money for years and we haven’t given it to them. It seems quite odd to have an out-of-state contract and offer them more money,” she said.
Two nonprofits running seven Arkansas juvenile treatment and detention centers say state officials failed to document why a for-profit, out-of-state company will replace them, even though the new company's bid was more expensive.
Both Consolidated Youth Services Inc. and South Arkansas Youth Services, which have operated the centers for more than a decade, are challenging the decision. The operators are mostly concerned with how their proposals and Youth Opportunity's were reviewed and the quality of the new company's youth services program.
"They robbed the entire bidding process of equity," state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson* wrote in a protest letter on behalf of South Arkansas Youth Services. The director of the Department of Human Services is currently drafting a "formal written response" to both organizations, Amy Webb, a department spokesman, said Monday.
In its protest letter, Consolidated Youth Services stated it held "no assurances" that the selection process was consistent. The state agencies did not provide individual score sheets used by evaluators to show how they weighed the proposals in each technical category and only a cumulative score was available, according to both nonprofits' letters. Evaluators appeared to have little experience in the youth services field, and there was no proof they attended training beforehand, the letters said.
Consolidated Youth Services' letter, written by attorney Debby Thetford Nye, called for a new evaluation -- one "untainted by significant procedural deficiencies and bias."
Both nonprofits said that Youth Services Division officials held post-bid discussions with Youth Opportunities Investments, even though post-bid conversations can disqualify vendors competing for a contract. The new company was also permitted to change its proposal and circumvent the criteria laid out in the state's request for services, the current contractors said.
Leaders of the Arkansas-based organizations say their programs cost less, strengthen communities and do not slash services. "We are a community program," said Jerry Walsh, chief executive officer of Magnolia-based South Arkansas Youth Services. His organization runs the Dermott Juvenile Correctional Facility and juvenile treatment centers in Dermott and Mansfield. "We know how to approach the community and how to work with them and to get them to support the program."
Youth Opportunities Investments plans to hire subcontractors from Louisiana and Nashville, Tenn., to carry out services, according to its proposal. The Youth Opportunities plan appears to dedicate fewer staff members to special education, GED and technical-vocational coursework and relies more on online learning, Walsh said.
"There is nothing in their proposal to suggest they would enhance the program," said Bonnie Boon, executive director of Jonesboro-based Consolidated Youth Services. Boon also said that she found the state's ability to find the extra dollars for the increase under the new company "curious."
Youth-services advocates have asked for additional funds for years, which Boon and Walsh said has been frustrating.
"It says a lot about their financial management and not funding youth services. Now all of a sudden you're throwing tons of money in this? Unbelievable," Walsh said.