As director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs, Gene Christian has one of the toughest jobs in state government. It’s getting more difficult all the time, thanks in part to budget cuts that have hit every state-funded office.
Adding to the stress for Christian is a Justice Department report released last week that included Oklahoma’s maximum-security juvenile detention facility among the worst in the nation for the amount of sexual abuse and victimization going on behind the facility’s walls. A whopping 25 percent of the youths surveyed at the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs said they had been subject to some type of sexual victimization, such as sex acts with a staff member, intercourse or contact with another person’s genitals. That’s more than double the national average of 12 percent. Rader’s rate placed it among the top 13 juvenile lockups nationwide. In addition, a survey of those incarcerated at the state’s juvenile detention facility in Tecumseh showed 16.7 percent said they had been sexually victimized. This isn’t a pretty picture. It’s also not one that surprises Christian. He quibbles a bit with the Justice Department’s methodology — few of the allegations made have been substantiated, for example — but he has been dealing with the issue of in-house violence since his appointment in 2006 and understands the challenges presented by the way Rader is laid out. Its design makes it difficult to monitor staff and juveniles at all times; the facility’s cottages have blind spots in some areas. This is one reason why he plans to begin closing cottages at Rader.