Higher-security beds for Oklahoma's juvenile offenders discussed
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Friday, September 28, 2012
9/28/12 at 7:40 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - After closing the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs a year ago, the Board of Juvenile Affairs on Thursday discussed the need for additional higher-security beds.
The L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs was the only one of the state's three juvenile centers that had secure beds.
The Board of Juvenile Affairs at a special board meeting Thursday declined to ask for a supplemental appropriation to fund the construction of two, 16-bed special population units at the remaining two facilities in Manitou and Tecumseh. The cost was $6 million.
But the board left the option open for a possible new facility or building additional beds at existing centers in its fiscal year 2014 budget request.
Outgoing Office of Juvenile Affairs Director Gene Christian said it would be cheaper to build at an existing facility where kitchens, dining halls and other common areas could be shared.
"The cost multiplies exponentially" if the agency builds a brand new stand-alone center, Christian said.
Jerry Fry, superintendent of the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh, said his facility is housing the most criminally sophisticated juveniles in its history. The center was built in the 1920s to house incorrigible females, Fry said.
Fry said the center has inadequate resources to deal with juveniles who require maximum security or who have mental health issues.
Fry said juvenile assaults on staff members are up 33 percent at his facility and juvenile assaults on juveniles have increased 23 percent since Rader was closed.
M. Keith Wilson, OJA executive director, said part of the problem is the agency's inability to retain staff members at the two centers.
Wilson said the biggest issue facing the agency is the need for safe beds for juveniles.
Wilson said that while he believes there is a need for a new facility, he has concerns about whether the Legislature or the governor would agree to pay for it.
When Rader was closed, the agency said it had open beds to house juveniles at the other two facilities.
"It wasn't a matter of placement," said Paula Christiansen, OJA spokeswoman. "We have open beds. We don't have the staff to oversee that population."
The remaining two facilities were not built to serve the youth the agency has today, she said. New facilities with a different design would allow the agency to safely manage the staff and youth, she said.
In its fiscal year 2014 budget request, the agency is seeking $1.2 million for a 5 percent pay increase for classified employees.
"High turnover rate and low staffing levels have seriously impaired OJA's ability to comply with its mission to the citizens of the state of Oklahoma," according to documents provided by OJA.
"Current staff represents a significant investment by OJA in training and experience that is needed to provide continuity of services through OJA's many systems and programs. The loss of well-trained staff leads to high overtime and other consequences such as diminished performance due to fatigue and burnout."
Original Print Headline: Juvenile Affairs sees need for higher-security beds
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
M. Keith Wilson: The OJA executive director says part of the problem is the inability to retain staff members.