2 youth-jail execs jumped ship

Two executives of the company that ran the state’s often-troubled youth lockup near Alexander until July are now top officers with an Indiana-based firm pursuing a $160 million contract to run seven other Arkansas juvenile centers.

Jim Hill and Brian Neupaver were president and chief operating officer, respectively, of Tampa-based G4S Youth Services before they abruptly left the company in May to head a division of Youth Opportunity Investments LLC of Carmel, Ind.

The for-profit company they now help lead is in a bidding skirmish with two Arkansas nonprofits that have managed the state’s other juvenile facilities for almost two decades.

Hill and Neupaver headed G4S while it operated the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center near Alexander, which houses many of the state’s most behaviorally troubled youth. The facility was hit with reports of misconduct during G4S management, which began in 2007, and in previous years.

In July, G4S lost the $34.1 million bid to keep running the lockup to another private firm, Nevada-based Rite of Passage, even though the G4S proposal was nearly $450,000 cheaper.

Arkansas Department of Human Services officials have said they chose Rite of Passage, which oversees dozens of similar programs across the country, because it had a higher “quality” proposal that outlined “much stronger” treatment and educational services for youths than the G4S plan.

Rite of Passage executives planned to transform the way the lockup was run, offering a “schoolhouse not a jailhouse” approach.

Hill and Neupaver left G4S while it was competing against Youth Opportunity Investments for a contract to operate a residential youth center in Tampa.

In June, the new G4S executive team took Hill, Neupaver and Youth Opportunity to court in Florida, citing “unfair and deceptive” trade practices and other allegations. That contract has not been awarded yet.

The two companies have battled over a youth-services contract before. Last year, Youth Opportunity took over a G4S-run, 86-bed juvenile detention center in Tennessee that G4S had operated for more than a decade.

Nicole Geller, a vice president of Youth Opportunity Investments, declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to say G4S’ claims “are without merit” and the company is “confident this matter will be resolved in the near future.”

“The litigation has no effect on YOI’s commitment to providing the best possible programming for the youth in our care,” Geller added.

Now, as part of Youth Opportunity’s executive team, Hill and Neupaver are again fighting for a youth services contract, in Arkansas.

This time it is to run seven juvenile centers located in Colt, Dermott, Harrisburg, Lewisville and Mansfield beginning Jan. 1. The centers house as many as 249 youths adjudicated as delinquent.

State officials decided last month to award the contract to Youth Opportunity, even though its proposal was more expensive and would raise the per-bed rate from $147 to $232, an almost 58 percent increase.

But two losing bidders already in charge of those facilities — Magnolia-based South Arkansas Youth Services and Jonesboro-based Consolidated Youth Services — formally protested the way officials evaluated the proposals and claimed the reviews were unfair.

In response, the Department of Human Services issued a settlement letter on Sept. 8 offering to rescore all submitted proposals and begin the review and evaluation anew.

Approval of the settlement hinges on the Office of State Procurement, which has yet to make a decision.

Jerry Walsh, executive director of South Arkansas Youth Services, expressed concern with the leadership team at Youth Opportunity although he did not have past experience working with Hill and Neupaver.

Walsh, who has repeatedly blasted the state’s intent to hire Youth Opportunity, says the link between G4S and Youth Opportunity is only one more reason to oppose the use of for-profit organizations to provide youth services.

Boonie Boon, who leads Consolidated Youth Services, also said she did not know much about G4S and how it operated Alexander.

The real cause of concern, Boon continued, is that the state “thinks the solution is to just bring in a new provider” instead of increasing funding to current providers and then track how the extra dollars can enhance existing programs.

One youth advocate who had raised concerns about how G4S ran Alexander said he does not believe that the same problems will necessarily arise if the state contracts with Youth Opportunity.

“Who heads the group that operates the facility is semi-important,” said Tom Masseau, executive director of Disability Rights Arkansas, a Little Rock-based nonprofit with federal authority to monitor the treatment of youths with disabilities.

“What is most important is that the Division of Youth Services has the authority to hold them accountable and how that contract is written.”