From The Desk of Pamela Bisceglia
While some maintain Denver Public Schools (DPS) offers students “equitable” opportunities, others assert the school-to-prison pipeline is alive and well in DPS. The partnership between DPS, Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) and what was the Division of Youth Corrections (currently known as the Division of Youth Services) provides new meaning to the school-to-prison pipeline. DPS charter school Rite of Passage is housed in youth correction facility in Watkins, Colorado. Thirty-five percent (or more) of the youth assigned to the facility are identified as having a disability (eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Ridge View Academy is a boys’ correction facility located in a remote area surrounded by fields. Ridge View Academy does not have a barbed wire fence, rather the youth understand if they run they will be sent to a more secure correction facility. DPS’ Board of Education approved the Rite of Passage charter school in 2001.
Advocacy Denver’s February 2018 E-Voice discussed the school to prison pipeline and reported:
There are two ways that a youth can be placed at Ridge View Academy. The most obvious is the youth has been charged and convicted of a crime and that youth is sentenced to the correction facility. There is a second group of youth housed in the same facility, foster children. The (Denver) Division of Human Services Child Protection Services is charged with keeping children safe. When Human Services removes a child from home because of abuse or neglect, if they do not have a foster home for the child age 12 and older, they are assigned to Ridge View Academy. The correction facility has “empty beds” and facility staff assert that they try to keep foster children separate from incarcerated youth but all youth are educated in the same classroom.
When asked whether incarcerated youth and Denver foster care children are housed together at this youth correction facility, Joe Homlar Deputy Executive Director Protection and Prevention Services/Denver Human Services asserted that all youth are assigned through the courts:
When we receive concerns about a child who may be in danger, unsafe in their living environment, that’s something we look into and make plans with families to address and remedy. That is the majority of the work we do. There are situations, however, where we make determinations with courts. The same judges who work with kids in our juvenile delinquency system are the same judges who work with our families who experience abuse issues at home. All of those judges are working with our Department, with families, with guardians, to make sure the child’s best interest is served. Through the juvenile justice system, a child is adjudicated in a civil finding because of a delinquency issue they are struggling with. Through the traditional child welfare system, the same civil finding of an adjudication and a finding that the child requires an out of home placement . . . . Kent (Kent Moe, Executive Director) runs a facility that provides a specific clinical service to children that require that need based on our assessment, assessments from courts, as well as assessments to make sure a child is a good fit for Rites of Passage.
Kent Moe, Executive Director, Ridge View Academy, further explained:
We are a Trauma-Informed care facility. There’s an assessment done at the very beginning to measure the degree to which a child is traumatized. There is a daily and weekly regiment of coping skills, therapy, group interventions, and individual (interventions) as well. Each week, each student gets prescriptive treatment related to their diagnosis or to their needs. Those things look primarily like cognitive behavioral interventions that tie to whatever risk they present. You’re talking about trying to get the student to understand the thought/ behavioral link. That’s what evidence has shown to be the best intervention. We do group and individual therapy, prescriptive to the child’s presented needs.
Mr. Homlar and Mr. Moe argue that Ridge View Academy is a treatment facility, designed to provide “staff secure” programming (academic and social/emotional services) to adjudicated youth and foster care youth.
December 2018 Letter to Fort Logan Staff:
The Colorado Division of Human Services (CDHS) is facing a crisis in its ability to timely admit the people the courts are ordering to the Department for competency evaluations and restoration services. It is with reluctance that we announce that there will be a freeze on the admissions of civil clients to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan, effective immediately . . . .Robert Werthwein, Ph.D.
Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan
The letter says that from 2000 to 2018, CDHS saw a 592 percent increase in the number of court-ordered individuals sent for competency evaluations and a 1251 percent increase in those ordered to receive inpatient competency restoration services. CDHC was party to a federal court settlement, which requires the Department to offer a bed to those needing competency-related services within 28 days of receiving a judge’s order and collateral materials. CHHC admits they been unable to meet the settlement agreement timelines since mid-2017 (Disability Law Colorado).
According to the letter:
On Dec. 10, the Department submitted a request to the legislature’s Capital Development Committee for $3.7 million for the first of three phases of construction, totaling $34.1 million, to be used to repurpose Ridge View Academy. The renovated campus would provide secure, inpatient psychiatric beds for up to 210 adults who need mental health services. That cost is approximately one-tenth the cost of building a new mental health hospital and can be achieved far more quickly. The renovated facilities would be finished by March of 2022.
Mark Techmeyer, Director of Communications, Colorado Division of Human Services:
The Department’s request to repurpose Ridge View was not funded and is not currently under consideration. Also for clarity, the freeze on the admission of civil patients by the department was no longer in effect as of February 7, 2019.
On April 8, 2019, Gov. Jared Polis directed the Colorado Department of Human Services to spearhead Colorado’s Behavioral Health Task Force.
The mission of the task force is to evaluate and set the roadmap to improve the current behavioral health system in the state. This includes developing Colorado’s “Behavioral Health Blueprint” by June 2020, with anticipated implementation of recommendations starting in July 2020. The task force is comprised of 25 members. There are also three subcommittees with 25 members each. Those subcommittees are:
- State Safety Net: This subcommittee shall offer a roadmap to ensure that every Coloradan, regardless of acuity level, ability to pay, or co-occurring disabilities, can obtain appropriate behavioral health services in their community.
- Children’s Behavioral Health: This subcommittee should develop a plan to address how we deliver and manage children’s behavioral health and improve outcomes.
- Long-Term Competency: Consistent with a recent consent decree entered into by the Colorado Department of Human Services, this subcommittee should develop a comprehensive plan for individuals in the criminal justice system who have been found incompetent to proceed and future solutions to increase community interventions as a means to reduce demand on forensic solutions to mental health.