BY World's Editorials Writers
Friday, January 25, 2013
1/25/13 at 7:00 AM
Oklahoma is sliding backward in its ability to handle violent and severely mentally ill juveniles. The fact that there is no dedicated maximum-security facility to house such youthful offenders is contributing to a dramatic increase in assaults on employees at the state's two medium-security facilities. The situation puts staff as well as other juveniles at risk.
The Office of Juvenile Affairs closed the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs in 2011 after years of litigation with the Department of Justice over conditions and treatment of juveniles there. The Rader Center, with an outdated design, had outlived its usefulness. But the location had not, since many of the high-risk offenders came from the Tulsa and northeastern Oklahoma area.
Closure resulted in the loss of 48 beds in the Intensive Treatment Program for the most aggressive residents. Rader had 186 beds in all and was the state's only maximum-security facility for troubled youth.
OJA is seeking $2 million to provide housing for extremely violent youths and juveniles with mental illness. Those clients presently are mixed with other youths in medium-security facilities.
For years, OJA has endured painful funding cuts. Oklahoma has a long and often troubled history with its juvenile facilities.
Treatment of dangerous juveniles should be a high priority as this is the state's last chance to treat these individuals and attempt rehabilitation before offenders age out and more times than not end up in adult facilities.
Adequate housing and adequate treatment for high-risk juveniles is a public safety issue. In fiscal 2011, 12 percent of residents at the state's secure facilities in Manitou and Tecumseh were involved in assaults on staff members, a figure that rose nearly 28 percent in fiscal 2012. This is a dangerously high number.
OJA needs the $2 million to provide special housing and the state needs to give OJA those funds. The state needs to quit gambling with the safety of staffers, other juvenile-facility residents and the public in general.