“Big Picture” part of DYS reason to close West Central

MIAMI COUNTY — The Ohio Department of Youth Services Ryan Gies addressed the three factors in his decision to shut down the West Central Juvenile Rehabilitation Center earlier this month.

Gies has been employed by the DYS since 1993 and appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine as its director in 2019.

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. Link filed an appeal, which was denied on Feb.1.

Earlier this month, DYS provided three reasons why they are going to close West Central Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility: the 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. The closest youth facility to Miami County would be New Lebanon or Xenia. The 32-bed facility, which opened in 1992, had an operating budget of $1.8 million and was fully funded by DYS.

“This is a much more big picture thing,” Gies said Wednesday. Gies said one-third of the youth rehabilitation facilities are located in the southwest region of Ohio. The location of other facilities was a major factor in its closing due to other facilities available that could serve youth in the area.

“While it’s not specifically a budget decision in terms of having to reduce cost, it is our fiscal responsibility to make sure that the programs Community Corrections Facilities (CCF) are used across the state as intended and that we are being fiscally responsible on how they are operated,” Gies said. “So when a facility has a declining and low population and is also in the area of the state where we have an abundance of CCF, that’s the situation we ran into here.”

Gies said West Central Juvenile Rehabilitation’s population is down “significantly” and those who would be sent to West Central can be served at other facilities in the state.

Gies said in DYS viewed West Central is now a “single county” operated facility, but Miami County officials argued otherwise. Gies said other counties terminated their agreements a year ago while Miami County Juvenile Judge Scott Altenburger said four of the six counties were in the middle of the agreement process and Mercer County was awaiting more information before signing an agreement.

“There are multiple factors. This (decision) was not hinging on any piece of paper or any grant agreement regardless of what happened — the decision would have stood anyway,” Gies said.

WCJR Director Gary Link said due to the appeal process and DYS decision to close, he had to turn away seven youth who would have had been housed for a total of 19 if the facility wasn’t closing.

Gies’ department provided the following male youth offender numbers at WCJRC: 2017: 29; 2018: 25; 2019: 21; 2020: 18. In 2021, there were 14 offenders in the program as of January. Link said he had seven youth waiting DYS decision to enter West Central.

According to DYS, West Central Juvenile Rehabilitation funded 26 full-time staff, two part-time staff and one shared position of the kitchen manager with the detention side. It was previously reported the center employed 35.

In 2020, DYS spent $1,728,155 in operating expenses and $112,743 in capital expenses.

In 2019, the DYS spent $1,708,926 in operating expenses for salaries; $410,343 in capital expenses; and $45,377.50 in camera and wiring systems for a total of $2,164,657.

“On your agency website, this facility and other CCF’s advertise if they have bed space they can accept youth from non-participating counties, so that is confusing to me because we have the bed space, and if permitted I would have been at 59% capacity the first week of January. Only one other CCF had a higher percentage of 63 percent, but I would have been at 65% by the end of January with two other planned placements,” Link noted to Gies.

Miami County Juvenile Court Judge Scott Altenburger wrote to Gies to reconsider his decision, which Gies denied on Feb. 3.

Also in the letter to Gies, Link said, “I have had the pleasure in this last year to work with the most dedicated and committed staff to the mission at hand called rehabilitation. I have personally been to 16 releases and the transformation of these young lives is incredible. The product we are sending out to the community is the epitome of rehabilitation. We have set these youths up for success.”

Link said since 2017, West Central had one out of 16 juvenile sex offenders that reoffended, but not in a sex crime case.

“If those sex offenders continued their sex offenses as adults they would be candidates for life without parole, so where is the bang for the buck in dollars for the taxpayers,” Link said.

West Central Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility will close whenever the last remaining youth leaves, or on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, whichever comes first.

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.