Denver Post, April 4, 1998

Authorities yank youths from unsafe corrections facility
By Carol Kreck, Staff Writer

April 4 - The state of West Virginia was so concerned about the reports of abuse and a suicide at the Brush youth corrections facility that it made plans to send the governor's plane to pick up their residents.

Meanwhile, several other states with young offenders housed at the embattled High Plains Youth Center were making plans to either pull their residents or investigate the charges for themselves.

West Virginia did not even wait to learn if High Plains lost its license before officials there notified Colorado authorities of their intentions.

"West Virginia has notified us they're going to send out a plane,'' said Dwight Eisnach, spokesman for the state department of human services. "They have 15 and will take them all out. They're making arrangements to use the governor of West Virginia's plane.''

Meanwhile, all 40 Colorado youths incarcerated at High Plains were hauled out in a bus at noon Thursday and distributed among state-run youth detention centers.

Administrators at the for-profit detention center had until Friday to show why the Colorado Department of Human Services shouldn't revoke the facility's license, which would effectively shut down the facility to 115 boys from other states.

Rebound, the privately held Denver-based corporation that runs High Plains, delivered a response to Human Services executive director Barbara McDonnell late Friday afternoon explaining how they propose to be held accountable, said Rebound spokesman Tom Schilling.

There wasn't enough time on Friday for the department to review the document and make a decision, according to Eisnach.

Whether High Plains keeps its license may be irrelevant, since other states and municipalities are following Colorado's lead without waiting for a license revocation.

Nebraska, which has five kids at High Plains, was trying Friday afternoon to work out a deal with Colorado Division of Youth Corrections Director Jerry Adamek to take their kids on a short-term basis. "We're trying to find a place for them,'' Eisnach said.

Michigan is sending out an assessment team to do its own audit of the facility, he said, and "Connecticut has notified us of their concerns, but they haven't read the report yet.''

Released Wednesday, the report followed an investigation into the facility and a death by suicide there of 13-year-old Matthew Maloney of Utah on Feb. 22. It's a blistering indictment of High Plains, citing a child-abuse report rate so high that Morgan County Social Services hired a full-time worker to investigate the allegations.

As an outgrowth of the "positive peer culture'' system used at High Plains, a group of offenders called the Cougars seemed to have the run of the facility, the report said.

Staff were inadequately trained, and the staff-to-student ratio sometimes was in violation of licensure requirements. The night Maloney hanged himself, the ratio was 1 to 44 when it should have been 1 to 20, according to the report. Though Rebound officials claim more adults were in the building at the time, child-care license administrators say adult bodies don't count unless they're truly supervising youths.

In a criticism related directly to Maloney's suicide, High Plains administrators knew he had talked about killing himself - he even told them how he would do it - but warnings to keep a special eye on the boy apparently weren't conveyed to night staff.

Maloney had complained of a headache that night so staff skipped the child-care licensing requirement that workers checking on a youth's well-being actually are able to see his skin. In Maloney's case, staff checked every five minutes, but they were only checking on a lump of clothes he'd formed in the shape of a body under his bedspread.

In the meantime, he tied his bedsheets around a toilet, looped them over a shower stall and locker and hanged himself behind the locker, a spot hidden from checks through the window in his door.

Rebound operates other facilities for youths in Colorado: Grand Prairie, a facility smaller than High Plains outside Colorado Springs; the Mount Falcon boot camp at Pueblo; a group home called Adventures in Change in Denver; and they run the orientation and assessment program at Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center, a staterun facility.

The state has no plans to shut down any other Rebound facilities, Eisnach said.

Return to Newsroom Index or to Table of Contents.