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. The academy provides educational programs to youths 11 to 20 years old who are referred to the school through juvenile courts and child welfare services. Ski Broman, chief executive for Rite of Passage, said the program focuses on developing strengths and goals to help youths transition back into life out of detention. "Typical facilities focus on custody and control. It’s all about risk reduction,” Broman said. Rite of Passage programs are evidence-based ways of assessing juveniles’ strengths and risks and prescribing treatments and goals. Juveniles, even the most violent offenders, are able to learn skills for life outside of the center, Broman said.
Other plansStill in the works is a group home in a former Butler school in Custer County, northwest of Clinton. The school was donated to Southwestern Oklahoma State University and will be used as a reintegration home for about 16 juveniles. That project is nearly complete, but it’s not clear how it will be opened and operated with current budget conditions, Christian said. Plans are also still under way for a new high-security institution. Design, function and legal problems at the L.E. Rader Center have made the cost of operating it nearly 25 percent higher per youth than the two other secure centers in the state. The Central Oklahoma Juvenile Detention Center in Tecumseh and the Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Detention Center in Manitou are considered medium security institutions and are able to house serious and violent offenders. A new high-security center could cost as much as $30 million to build. City officials in Clinton have expressed interest in the project.
• Total in detention or programs: 14,191
• First-time referrals: 8,629
• Detained for violent crimes: 1,477
• Gang members: 556
• Total in detention or programs: 14,757
• First-time referrals: 9,076
• Detained for violent crimes: 1,561
• Gang members: 570