- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Sedgwick County facility for young offenders is prepared to offer thousands of dollars in bonuses to persuade key staff members to stay, even though their jobs could be gone by early summer.

The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch has seen an exodus of workers since County Manager William Buchanan said in December he would recommend closing the facility July 1 if the state doesn’t pony up enough money to keep it running.

Sedgwick County commissioners on Wednesday approved changes in personnel policy that would allow Buchanan to award up to $190,000 in bonuses to critical employees, including those who work at the boys ranch at Lake Afton and some information technology workers, The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/1mxoc5f) reported.

The county has committed to keep the boys ranch open through at least June 30, but it’s unclear what will happen after that. The uncertainty has prompted several employees to leave for more stable paychecks.

“I’m in a constant state of hiring,” Mark Masterson, director of the county’s department of corrections, said Wednesday. “Retention of qualified staff is more difficult as the June 30 deadline approaches and there’s no clear resolution in sight over the long-term funding.”

At any given time, the facility serves about 40 boys considered at medium to high risk of committing additional crimes. It provides a comprehensive program of secured housing, education, counseling and vocational training.

A study by the county covering 2007 to 2011 concluded that 55 percent to 70 percent of the boys who are sent to the ranch successfully complete the program. Of those who do complete it, 70 percent to 84 percent don’t re-offend in the year after their release, the county said.

Those who work at programs such as the boys ranch require certain skills and backgrounds, and it takes a while to train them, Masterson said.

Last year, 13 of the 21 corrections worker positions at the ranch, or 62 percent, turned over, he said. In 2009, there were 27 corrections worker positions there and only four of them, or 15 percent, turned over.

Masterson said corrections workers monitor the youth and enforce program rules and routines. Half of the direct-care corrections workers at the ranch now have less than six months of experience, he said.

The ranch’s future has been uncertain for several years. The state pays the county $126 per day per boy, but the county was spending about $200 a day per boy before reducing those costs with a move to 12-hour shifts.

The Kansas Legislature approved a one-time grant of $750,000 for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The county, which runs the ranch for the state, has asked for $1.5 million.

At a meeting in December, state Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts questioned the amount spent on staffing at the ranch and repeatedly noted the state had a surplus of bed space for the type of juvenile offenders held there.


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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