Follow up: Girl offender will remain in state after all

There appeared to be no facility in Iowa for the Johnson County teen

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IOWA CITY — Juvenile court officers said Wednesday a 16-year-old Johnson County girl convicted of assaulting and injuring a treatment center employee would be sent to a facility in Boone County, rather than out of state as suggested.

Amy Ryan, juvenile court officer, testified during a hearing that Woodward Academy in Boone County, which recently opened a girl’s dorm at its residential treatment center, would accept the girl identified in court only as “M.R.” The state Department of Human Services would pay for an additional staff member to work one-on-one with her, and then evaluate after a month whether the extra staff was still needed.

The in-state placement would bring to an end a monthslong odyssey over where the girl offender ultimately would go. The state closed its training center and school for girls in Toledo in 2014. And last week, in an interview with The Gazette, new Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven said it was likely the teen would have to be sent out of state because there aren’t enough girl delinquents in Iowa to justify the cost of building a new facility.

In court Wednesday, Ryan said Woodward doesn’t have locked units — but neither does all but one unit at the State Training School for Boys in Eldora, nor did the girl’s school in Toledo.

Boys and girls are on separate campuses at Woodward. The academy provides education and mental health services, which Anthony Haughton, the girl’s attorney, said she needed and had not received in two previous placements.

Court officers said they expect the girl to move as soon as a judge files his order and Human Services approves her transfer from the Linn County Juvenile Detention Center.

Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Jason Burns said he sets the level of placement — which in his order states the girl must be sent to a training school or other similar facility — but can’t make a specific placement. That’s up to Human Services.

Burns asked why it took four months to make a recommendation.

Ryan said she was told there wasn’t a secure and restrictive facility in the state that would accept M.R., so court officers were looking out of state. Then, at the last hearing, she was told to look again for possibilities in the state — and found out Human Services could provide the additional support to meet the level of care.

At a previous hearing, Haughton had asked the court to place M.R. at the boy’s school in Eldora because she needed a secure and restrictive facility.

Richard Shults, administrator of Mental Health and Disability Services for Human Services, testified Wednesday about a letter he gave the court, saying a girl could not be accepted to the boy’s school.

He said that with the current staff and way the dorms and school are set up, staff couldn’t provide a safe or separate environment for girls.

Haughton told the judge that Eldora wasn’t his preference, but he didn’t want the girl to have to go out of state — away from her mother who is suffering health troubles and can’t travel.

He said he is familiar with Woodward and thinks it might be a good place for her. But he fears the girl might come under undue scrutiny anywhere she goes because her case has been made public.

Assistant Johnson County Attorney Emily Voss said she had concerns placing the girl in a residential facility rather than training school. This girl has higher needs, Voss said, and said she hopes Woodward has enough staff training. Voss said she doesn’t want something to happen again as it had at Four Oaks — where the girl slashed the neck of an employee.

Voss also said her “overall frustration” is with the state not providing for placement of girl offenders as it does for boy offenders.

She said the Johnson County Attorney’s Office has a case involving another girl who may need similar placement.

“I share your sentiment,” Burns said. “The state has a severe problem of disproportionate treatment. The only reason she has been in detention since April is because she has female genitalia and not boy’s genitalia. It’s upsetting.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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