- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The state needs a plan for housing some delinquent girls after closing the Iowa Juvenile Home, a top aide to Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday.

Department of Human Services Director Charles Palmer told members of the Senate Human Resources Committee that the state should provide at least 20 secure beds for delinquent girls. A spokeswoman said he planned to put out a more detailed proposal in the next few weeks.

Branstad closed the facility in Toledo on Jan. 15 following allegations that teens were improperly treated and denied a proper education. The home housed some of Iowa’s most troubled girls. The treatment of children at the center in Toledo came to light after an investigation by the advocacy group Disability Rights Iowa and stories by The Des Moines Register. They reported that physical restraints were used on children and that staffers relied on isolation cells.

But Democratic lawmakers have criticized the closing, arguing it would cost jobs and could impact treatment for young people. Democratic lawmakers announced a plan last week to file legislation in an effort to reopen the home, which would include an overhaul of the facility’s programming. Four Democratic lawmakers also have joined with the head of the state employees’ union in filing a lawsuit against Branstad and Palmer, seeking to keep the home open.

Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, said after the hearing that reopening the home should be an option for Palmer.

“Our bill does exactly what he says he wants,” Sodders said. “We had a stable place to keep girls safe.”

Of the 21 girls who had been living at the home, six have been sent home, two placed in detention centers for delinquent youth and the others were moved into a mix of public and private facilities around the state, said DHS spokeswoman Amy Lorentzen McCoy.

Jane Hudson, the executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, told Iowa senators Monday that the closure made sense because there were continued violations at the facility. But juvenile court officers testified that the closure has limited the options for judges when sentencing young people.

Branstad last week stood by his decision to close the home, saying there had been too much emphasis on protecting the home and not enough on caring for the children.

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