Where to put a violent 16-year-old girl?

Iowa juvenile officers struggle with 'real consequence' of girls training school closing

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IOWA CITY — A juvenile court hearing Thursday on where to place a 16-year-old girl convicted of assaulting a residential facility staffer highlights the “real consequences” of closing the Iowa Juvenile Home/State Training School for girls in 2014.

The girl, who has a pattern of assaultive behavior and was convicted in juvenile court of slicing the neck of a staff member at Four Oaks in Cedar Rapids, has been in the Linn County Juvenile Detention Center since April 11. There is no appropriate facility in Iowa to meet her security and behavioral issues, according to testimony during the hearing.

Assistant Johnson County Attorney Emily Voss asked the court to place the girl at the now-closed Iowa State Training School for Girls because she requires that level of restrictive and structured care. The school and juvenile home closed in 2014, but Voss wanted the matter to come before the court.

Voss argued Thursday this is a gender and equality issue and that the state has “failed girls.”

She pointed out having boys and girls together in residential facilities, such as training schools, is not uncommon in other states. If girls with behavioral issues — such as the 16-year-old in this case — are in less secure facilities, they will continue to get into trouble and pick up charges, she said.

The 16-year-old girl’s lawyer, Anthony Haughton, filed a similar motion but asked the court to place the girl at the Iowa State Training School for Boys in Eldora.

Haughton said during the hearing it’s a “rare occasion” when he wants to hug a prosecutor, but this was one of them. He feels it’s unfair to be forced to ship girls out of state, which is being considered for his client.

He asked the judge to order the girl to the boys training school in Eldora with enough time for officials to make arrangements to house a young woman.

Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Jason Burns in July placed the girl in the care of the Iowa Department of Human Services and ordered that she be placed in an appropriate facility that would meet her “severe behavioral issues.” DHS officials directed juvenile court officers to find a placement in-state or out-of-state.

Burns ordered the review hearing Thursday, expecting a placement would have been found. At the last hearing, juvenile court officers thought Four Oaks might take the girl.

However, juvenile court officer Amy Ryan testified Thursday that Four Oaks will not accept the girl. Ryan said has been checking out-of-state training schools — in Indiana and Michigan — for possible placement. There are concerns about the Indiana facility, and Michigan hasn’t decided on whether to accept the girl.

Erin Altheide, supervisor of Juvenile Court Services in Johnson and Iowa counties, testified juvenile officers have been spending at least three hours a day trying to find a placement for the girl.

Asked how many juveniles can be housed at the boys school in Eldora, Altheide said 130.

Judge Burns, who said he was concerned about equal protection, asked if the girl were a boy, would there be room for her at Eldora?

Altheide said yes. In her 22-year career, she said, she hasn’t needed to place a delinquent boy outside the state.

Vern Armstrong, DHS division administrator, testified he could order Four Oaks to accept the girl but he wouldn’t force it if it wasn’t going to be safe. DHS would have to provide additional support, such as more staff, to Four Oaks or another facility.

Armstrong told the judge the boys school isn’t prepared to take girls. The girl would have to be separated from the boys, and it would require additional staff for her. It would “create chaos” for her to be the only female at the facility, he added.

Voss asked Armstrong if it was fair for girls to sit in detention because there’s no place to send them in Iowa.

Armstrong said he couldn’t answer that question, which is up to legislators and the governor.

“She is facing the real consequences of closing the school,” Burns said. “I will continue to monitor this — it isn’t going away. I may need to have officials here from Eldora to categorically reject her and give reasons (why).”

Burns set another review hearing for Aug. 16,

The state training school for girls in Toledo was closed in 2014 following accusations of unlawful restraining methods and of keeping girls in long-term isolation. A task force appointed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad to study the facility recommended its closure. Most of the girls there were transferred to out-of-state facilities, detention centers or waived into adult court, officials said.

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

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