The Office of Juvenile Affairs is asking its board of directors to approve a request for proposals to determine the cost private vendors would charge to build a new juvenile detention facility in the state. To pay for that construction or to lease a facility, the agency would have to shut down one or more existing detention centers or get additional funding from a cash-strapped Legislature. Members of the agency’s board listened to a lengthy presentation during their monthly meeting Friday about the need for a new facility and the possibility of a private group building a detention facility with up to 150 beds for juvenile offenders. The board took no action. The discussion is one in a series about the possibility of leasing a facility from a private company. The board is expected to decide whether to issue a request for proposals at its September meeting. The board also is considering a proposal that would allow a private company to manage juvenile detention facilities. Any proposal for private construction or management would not be finalized until spring when the Legislature is in session and could authorize the funding, said Gene Christian, Office of Juvenile Affairs executive director. "I don’t advocate one way or another,” Christian said. "At this point it’s impossible to do because we don’t have all the information to make the decision.” Requesting proposals would allow the board to see the price a company might charge for construction or management.
Old buildings add to staffing costsJuvenile Affairs’ three facilities are older and require additional staff to monitor offenders who are housed in areas not originally intended to be detention facilities. Because additional staff is needed to keep kids safe, the cost of operating the facilities is higher, Christian said. At the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, the state’s maximum-security facility for juvenile offenders, it costs $292.51 per day, per bed. That figure includes the cost of staffing, changes made as a result of a recent federal lawsuit and the cost of mental health treatment and education programs, Christian said. "In a new facility, we either have to manage more kids with the same staff, or the same amount of kids with less staff,” he said.
Union opposes privatizationMembers of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association and Rader employees attended the meeting. Sterling Zearley, executive director of the employees’ group, told board members employees are in favor of updating facilities but oppose any move to turn over management of the detention centers to a private group. Zearley said privatization would mean a loss of jobs for state employees and could compromise care given to juveniles.