Closing of Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility both emotional and hopeful

Posted by Darlene Conroy
March 31, 2017

Written by Veronica Coons, Tribune staff

Staff members of Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility, their families and members of the corrections community released balloons at the

conclusion of the facility closing Friday afternoon, March 3. The facility was dedicated in 2003, but was closed this week due to a decline in the number of youths committing crimes requiring incarceration, according to KDOC Secretary of Juvenile Services Terri Williams.

LARNED - The atmosphere was like both a reunion and a wake. There were hugs, tears, and emotional greetings between old friends. Men and women stood side by side, some holding back tears, but all with a sense of hopefulness Friday afternoon as staff of the Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility gathered for the closing ceremony of the facility. The facility which was dedicated in 2003 and could hold 128 youth is now permanently closed.

Kansas Secretary of Corrections Joseph Norwood and Deputy Secretary of Juvenile Services Terri Williams came to express their appreciation to the staff for their service which for some stretched back into the 1980s.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the staff and leadership at LJCF,” Williams said. “Closing a facility is a challenge logistically, and the work is compounded by the fact people are feeling emotions about it, as well as the need for most to find a new place of employment. They handled it admirably.” Williams specifically praised LJCF Superintendent Wendy Leiker for her leadership throughout the process.

“I have been to many leadership classes and have had several mentors, but one of the things that no one can teach you is how to close a facility,” Leiker told the staff. “They cannot teach you how to say goodbye. This experience has changed me and has helped me to become a more compassionate leader. Thank you for letting me be your leader. You are still a part of my family and I will always be there for you.”

Following the speeches, the crowd gathered around the flagpole for a balloon release, followed by a reception with cake and tables loaded with scrapbooks from the past four decades. Staff were encouraged to take one last walk through the facility, perhaps to show their family where they worked for so many years. After the last person left, the doors were locked until the next incarnation of the facility is determined.

Youth crimes declining

According to Williams, the facility was closed because juvenile crime and juvenile incarceration rates are down. In just the last five years, there are about 100 fewer kids incarcerated in Kansas. The recidivism rate has also improved, so fewer kids are coming back, she said.

“As we’ve provided training and provided other alternatives in the community then that has allowed the judges and local jurisdictions to maintain kids more safely in their communities,” she added. It’s consistent with national trends. Most other states are experiencing a similar phenomenon with their juvenile correctional facility population. “Incarceration of our kids should absolutely be the last resort and reserved for those who pose a risk and challenge the public’s safety. It shouldn’t be for lower level kids. It shouldn’t be for misdemeanor kids.”

Many of the youth who are still required to finish out their court ordered sentences were transferred to the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka in January. Others who met specific requirements for good behavior or time served were allowed to go home and will meet new requirements, Williams said.

Staff finding new positions

The facility employed about 140 full-time workers. The decision to close the facility was announced in July of 2016. Since then, KDOC staff both at LJCF and at the Central Office in Topeka worked diligently to assist employees to find other employment, with the state if they so desired. Many have found positions at both the adult correctional facility and the hospital located on the Larned campus. They have undergone accelerated specialized training in order to step into those positions over the past few months.

“The LJCF staff pulled together as a family to help each other out with job leads, resume building, mock interviews, advocating for each other and supporting each other,” Williams said. “We continue to work to place as many staff as possible, and to ensure that all the staff is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve for their outstanding service.”

As for the facility, it is still the property of the KDOC. Williams confirmed representatives of the Larned State Hospital have more than once toured it to see if it might be used for some of their purposes, but to date there have been no definitive decisions made.

New methods being employed with youth

The closing comes the day after the Kansas Department of Corrections, with Governor Sam Brownback, launched the start of Functional Family Therapy, being touted as an alternative to removing youth from their homes or incarcerating them.

According to a Kansas Department of Corrections March 1 press release, for the past year, courts in Southeast Kansas have been employing FFT as an alternative to removing youth from their homes or incarcerating them. Now this data-driven combination of therapy and supervision for juvenile offenders is being made available to youth statewide.
EmberHope will be the provider of FFT in the western half of the state.

Friday afternoon, Williams stated that some of the youth from the Larned facility that are now at Topeka could down the road participate in that program, but will not be released to the program in lieu of serving their time, she said.

“The current scope of FFT is really to prevent more kids from going deeper into the system and out of home placement,” she said.
Gov. Brownback has noted that the reduction of placements outside the home will allow money to be used for community programs like FFT.  FFT provides therapy and supervision of youth still in their homes to help them become more adaptive and successful. For more than 40 years in numerous states, the program has been able to reduce reliance on out-of-home placement and its negative effects on the youth and family. FFT has successfully reduced recidivism from 25 to 60 percent in various states.