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Officials: Detention center is a success

(ran PC edition)

The Charter facility, which rehabilitates teenage offenders, is praised for its quiet progress.

Less than a year after a deal was inked with the state, the Charter Behavioral Health Systems center on State Road 54 is filled to capacity with troubled teenage offenders and is running smoothly, officials say.

Charter redesigned its inpatient hospital in a commercial strip of central Pasco _ along SR 54 just east of U.S. 41 _ and without hoopla or controversy has established a detention center for repeat offenders.

"It's something that has worked quite well," said Timothy Niermann, a district manager with the state Department of Juvenile Justice. "We needed the program, Charter had the ability, and we worked together."

The state signed a $1.2-million contract to run the 36-bed program in November. Since then, Charter chief operating officer Richard Semancik said, the company has replaced the windows with secure glass substitutes, erected an 8-foot fence around the building and created a secure campus where repeat offenders can live, learn and get the mental health assistance they need.

"The goal is to help these girls get readjusted, get back on their feet and get back out there," he said.

Niermann said the girls in the program have reached Level 8 status, reserved for repeat offenders. But unlike boys in the same level, most of the girls in the program are not considered violent, but they have had prior arrests or have walked away from less secure detention centers, he said.

Unlike adult prisons, the goal in juvenile detention is not to punish, Niermann said. Instead, the department's mission is to change the behavior of the young offenders and help them return to society without creating problems for others.

Linda Kutz, director of clinical services for Charter's youth programs in Tampa, said the girls selected for the Land O'Lakes program usually have a history of mental health problems and family issues that lead to legal troubles.

"These children we have in the Pasco facility are girls that have had a lot of things thrown at them at once," she said. "We try to treat all of that. We look at their lives, try to involve their families. We work with behavior modification and help them make better choices. If medication is needed to help in that, we have that as well."

Semancik said the program has reached its capacity of 36 girls, ranging from 13 to 18 years old. Since the program began, the center has had no reports of dangerous behavior and no escapes.

"We're with them around the clock; everything is structure," he said. "They have tasks to do, they have school right there on the campus, they have recreation time, they have counseling, and they have other treatment options all right there. They never leave the campus."