Office of Juvenile Affairs Executive Director Gene Christian informed about 50 employees at the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs last week they could lose their jobs by summer.
But despite approaching layoffs, furloughs and cuts to nearly every service provided by the department, Christian is still planning for a charter school academy for troubled youth.
"We have to start doing something different,” Christian said. "This economic climate is forcing us to come of age.”
Staffing reductions and budget constraints have reduced the number of residential beds available for juveniles referred to the department. By July, Christian said he will be able to accommodate about half the juveniles that were housed in 2000, taking the total number of beds to about 550. Fewer than half of those are at secure places like the L.E. Rader Center.
Although the number of juveniles entering the system has declined in the past several years, the number placed in custody in 2009 increased by 2.5 percent from 2008.
The department is legislatively mandated to provide secure institutions for violent delinquents and youthful offenders.
With the charter school academy, the plan is to immerse youths transitioning out of the system into an educational setting where they would be better equipped to enter college, career-tech programs or go into the work force, Christian said. The academy would accommodate about 150 youths.
Details of the plan still need to be worked out, but Christian said he’s been in contact with officials in a few communities that are interested.
"We have to be somewhere we’re wanted,” he said. "We need a community behind us.”
One school being looked at as an example is Rite of Passage in Denver.