A California-based company that previously ran a Salt Lake juvenile detention facility for 11 years is suing the state of Utah after a new five-year contract was awarded to another firm.

Cornell Corrections of California, which does business as Abraxas Youth and Family Services, recently filed a lawsuit in 3rd District Court requesting that the decision regarding the multimillion-dollar contract be overturned and that Abraxas get the new contract instead.

Abraxas alleges that the decision-making process used by the Utah Department of Human Services and other state agencies in awarding the contract was "arbitrary and capricious" and was "clearly erroneous."

In fiscal year 2008, the budget for the Salt Lake Valley Detention Center was about $3.8 million, according to Liz Sollis, DHS public information officer.

Abraxas in the latest round of bidding submitted a proposal containing a budget of approximately $5.2 million for fiscal year 2009, Sollis said. Meanwhile, Cornerstone Programs Corp. submitted a proposal that had a budget of about $4.4 million for fiscal year 2009.

Cornerstone, based in Centennial, Colo., has operated the 60-bed Farmington Bay Juvenile Detention Facility in Davis County since 1995.

Sollis did not comment on the litigation. However, she said contract proposals are initially reviewed by DHS and then referred to the state's Department of Administrative Services Division of Purchasing and General Services for final decisions.

The Salt Lake Valley Detention Center is a 160-bed locked facility for juveniles ages 10-18 who are being held temporarily until their cases are resolved in court or DHS can find another place for them. While in the center, the young people receive a variety of services, including such things as schooling, medical and dental care, psychological help and other assistance.

The center at 3450 S. 900 West is owned by the state, but services are provided through contracts with other organizations.

The lawsuit said there were 4,190 admissions to the center during fiscal year 2007.

Abraxas said in its suit that it had operated the center successfully and DHS recently gave it a 100 percent rating.

"Cornerstone received 164 points for its proposal, while Abraxas received 161.22 points for its proposal. Because the scoring was so close, even a minor error in the scoring process would have resulted in Abraxas being awarded the contract," the lawsuit said.

When notified that Cornerstone was getting the contract instead, Abraxas filed a protest with the state making several allegations: that Cornerstone's proposal did not comply with state requirements as far as employee education and other standards; that Cornerstone's proposal contained "blatant misstatements" regarding the services it would or could provide; and that Abraxas' score in one section was rounded down while Cornerstone's was rounded up.

Attorneys representing Abraxas and representatives for Cornerstone were not available for comment at press time. (Cornerstone is not a party to this lawsuit; Abraxas is suing the state of Utah.)

The Utah Attorney General's Office declined comment.


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