By Jim Misunas
LARNED — Mira Vucicevic, the superintendent at the Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility, said she was intrigued by the job opportunity. Once she researched the Kansas Juvenile Justice Authority, the opportunity to be LCCF superintendent captured her interest.
“The apparent transparency and alignment with best practices was inviting,” she said.
Her transition to a new job has been eased by Wendy Leiker, LJCF deputy superintendent.
“I cannot say enough about deputy superintendent Leiker, who has been invaluable,” Vucicevic said. “She served as acting superintendent for many months through some critical and challenging situations while still managing the usual day-to-day matters. She has helped me learn about Kansas specific applications and been professional at every turn.”
Vucicevic compares the Kansas geography to Indiana, where she was raised. When she moved to Kansas from Cheyenne, Wyo., conversations with strangers were spontaneous, friendly, and informative. She has concluded that Kansas is a friendly, most polite destination.
“I have heard staff repeatedly say ‘I love my job,’ and ‘it feels like family.’ What I see at work are hard-working people who are committed to taking care of other people’s children in state custody. They work to provide the healthiest environment in the safest way possible for youth and staff.”
She has been impressed by the commitment to the juveniles
“They model behavior and teach our male youth how to be responsible men,” she said. “Both Kansas JJA and Fort Larned USD 495 are obviously committed to providing the opportunity for youth to complete school through regular classes or earn a GED. The youth have the opportunity to earn college credits through Barton Community College funded by the Workforce Improvement Act.”
She believes LJCF staff possess the knowledge, skill set and attitude required to do this job efficiently and effectively. She said the evidence is obvious in the daily operations of security, programming, medical and mental health, food services, maintenance and education.
“The fact that youth will call the facility after their release to just say thank you, or update us on their achievements, or ask for job reference advice says it all,” she said.
She saw first-hand how LJCF staff can impact a resident when she attended a recent Sedgwick County accountability panel of professionals and citizens. They welcomed a LJCF graduate back home. He was employed, living at home with his mother and father for the first time in years. He was taking care of his child and getting reacquainted with his grandfather, who serves as a newfound source of inspiration for him.
“The panel questioned him about who he might call if he needed something and he genuinely responded with the names of the LJCF re-entry manager and his team leader,” she said. “He was carrying a facility re-entry folder where he gathered his employment applications and important papers. He wants to succeed and contribute positively to home and community. He wants to earn his grandfather’s respect. He wants what we all want — a good life that we earn.”
A recent informal survey gave uniform-ranking staff a 2.6 rating of satisfaction on a 3.0 scale.
“After speaking with staff and residents, things are going very well at Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility,” she said. “I’m continuing to assess leadership, strategic planning, information and analysis and general operations, but I’m impressed with the professionalism of our staff and know that we have the right skill sets as we move our facility forward.”
Vucicevic spends time in meetings with staff to review all facets of the operation. She invests time each day with the staff and youth on the secure side observing operations and staff-youth interface. She signs certificates acknowledging youth achievement, approve disciplinary action, meets with residents, reads JJA policy and attends training.
“I ask staff at all levels lots of questions,” she said.
She reviews and signs every incident report and responds to 50 to 100 emails a day. She partners with the Westside Principal Rusty Wrinkle.
“Recently I’ve spent time thinking strategically about processes that could improve the already safe, secure and humane environment,” she said. “I’m learning the rhythm of the facility and budgeting my time appropriately. I take all the learning opportunities I can from my daily encounters and ask lots of questions. As I relate processes to my experiences, I gain a fundamental understanding needed to carry out operations and my responsibilities to the youth and staff.”
The Juvenile Justice Reform Act, passed by the Kansas Legislature in 1996, mandates that only the most violent, serious, and chronic offenders will be referred to juvenile correctional facilities. Additionally, it called for specialized services based upon offender needs.
Vucicevic worked most recently as Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act grant manager with the Wyoming Department of Health, Medicaid Division. She had previously worked as superintendent of Summit View Juvenile Corrections in Las Vegas, Nev.