LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Dozens of Arkansas juvenile facilities, including detention centers, with antiquated locking systems that can’t be opened remotely are posing safety concerns.
Lawyer Sharon Cowell said that among those facilities the locks at Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center in Alexander are the “most difficult to maneuver.”
The facility has nearly 170 manual locks that are secured by a heavy bolt and latch, Cowell told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/2uvb2V5 ).
Cowell said that in an emergency such as a fire “minutes would be lost” opening cells one by one.
“It’s highly likely children will be trapped and potentially perish due to the antiquated locking system,” Cowell said.
Last year, lawmakers vowed to acquire the $1 million needed to replace the facility’s locks, but no funds were set aside during the 2017 legislative session.
However, the state Division of Youth Services does have the authority to purchase and replace the locks if funds become available.
Amy Webb, a spokesman for the Human Services Department, which oversees the youth services agency, said updating manual locks is a priority.
“There’s a limited amount of available funding for capital projects,” Webb said. “It’s really for the most critical and urgent needs.”
She noted that the Human Services staff is looking into a way to replacing the locks with the department’s budget.
Rite of Passage is a Nevada-based company that runs the Alexander center for the state.
Debby Thetford Nye, an attorney for the company, said it’s working with state officials to “explore options available to address the concern.”
“We are hopeful the situation will be concluded soon,” Nye said.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com