A juvenile detention center in Durango remains closed almost two months after the Colorado Department of Human Services suspended the license of Rite of Passage, the private company contracted to run the center, and accused the company of multiple offenses, including falsifying reports and child abuse.
Nourie Boraie, a spokeswoman with the Department of Human Services, said this week: “The Division is actively working with the agencies impacted to develop a short-term and long-term plan with the least amount of impact to the youth and their families, the community, its officers and the court system.”
As of this week, Boraie said the Department of Human Services has not filed to revoke Rite of Passage’s license to operate the Robert E. DeNier Youth Services Center indefinitely. Also, she said Rite of Passage has not filed an appeal of the suspension of its license. She said safety of juveniles at DeNier is the top priority, and suspension of Rite of Passage’s license “was the appropriate action at that time.”
The state agency suspended Rite of Passage’s license Aug. 23 in response to at least two physical encounters involving staff members and juvenile detainees.
DeNier is accused of consistently failing to maintain standard; making misleading or false statements or reports; failing to provide safe conditions for children; violating the Child Care Licensing Act; and “substantial evidence” that suggests employees at DeNier committed acts of child abuse, according to a five-page order of summary suspension issued Aug. 22 by the Department of Human Services.
“Following efforts to work with the facility to remedy concerns, CDHS determined that ROP’s operation of the DeNier Center presented an unsafe environment for the youth it served,” Human Services wrote in a prepared statement.
Lynea Hansen, spokeswoman for Rite of Passage said Thursday in an email: “We are proud of our 18 years of service to the Durango area, and we continue to search for a solution to get DeNier reopened and return to serving the youth in the community.”
In the meantime, La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said deputies are transporting juvenile inmates to Grand Junction or Pueblo, “on average less than once a week.”
“It’s not an everyday thing,” he said. “Since DeNier closed, we’ve dealt with it a handful of times. ... We are looking for a better long-term solution, especially as we are getting into winter.”
Smith added: “We are working with the parties for a long-term solution. The word I’ve heard is the state is looking at putting out a bid for another contractor to operate out of DeNier with a reduced number of beds.”
DeNier, located in Bodo Industrial Park, was authorized to accommodate up to 28 juveniles at any given time. About 30 people worked at the detention center. The facility was built in 1999 and opened Jan. 1, 2000. The building is owned by the state of Colorado, which has contracted with Rite of Passage for 18 years to operate the detention center.
The Sheriff’s Office has created a makeshift holding area adjacent to the agency’s administrative offices to detain juveniles for short periods of time until they can be released, taken to court or transferred to Pueblo or Grand Junction. The space is connected to the Sheriff’s Office administrative offices.
If juveniles must be taken to Pueblo or Grand Junction, they can go by ground transport or by flying, Smith said. And sometimes, juveniles must be returned to Durango for court appearances.
“Flying can be fairly expensive, and if you figure in the deputy’s time, driving on the road can be, too,” Smith said.
The state investigated two complaints having to do with physical interactions between staff and students in June 2018. In response, DeNier devised an action plan for its use of physical management, including training staff on de-escalation techniques. DeNier also said it began reviewing all instances of physical management in conjunction with incident reports.
But two more incidents of physical encounters surfaced in July and August, according to an order of summary suspension issued by the state.
On July 20, a resident of DeNier was physically restrained by an employee referred to as “Mr. Phillips.” In Phillips’ report detailing the encounter, he said the youth slapped a radio off his shirt and reached out with both hands to grab Phillips. He then initiated a neck hold on the youth while the two were on the floor.
But video showed Phillips pushing the youth in the back, closely following the youth and cornering the inmate, according to Human Services. The video showed the youth knocking the radio away, but the youth made no attempt to grab Phillips. Phillips then grabbed the youth by the shoulders and later the neck and pushed the youth up against a wall. He then moved the inmate down to the floor and continued to hold the youth by the neck until other staff members arrived.
The state reviewed a second incident that occurred Aug. 7, in which Rite of Passage said an employee, referred to as “Mr. Webb,” was punched in the face by a detainee. However, video showed Webb first grabbed the youth out of a chair after the youth threw trash on him, after which the punch occurred, according to Human Services.