The state Board of Juvenile Affairs is discussing whether to build a private prison that could lead to closing an existing one, possibly Sand Springs’ aging L.E. Rader Center. To pay for such a move, one or more public prisons, such as Rader, would have to be closed, said Gene Christian, executive director of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs. He placed the item on the June regular board meeting agenda to start discussing privatization. No vote was taken during the meeting Friday. Christian said the board needs to discuss all options and determine whether privatization would save the agency money. The agency runs Rader — the state’s only maximum-security prison for juveniles — Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh and Southwestern Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Manitou. "Many have design or structural problems,” Christian said. "Rader is the one we have the greatest concerns about.” At the board’s July 17 meeting, it will discuss issuing requests for proposals or invitations to bid for a private prison that would not exceed 150 beds. The board also will discuss requests for proposals or invitations to bid on private management and operation of a new prison. Inclusion of the items on the agenda is a heads-up to the public and employees that the issue needs to be discussed, he said. Board Chairman Gary A. Taylor said, "Moving down this road is a serious consideration.” He said he also feels it is important a new state-run facility also is considered. Christian said assaults on staff members have increased, driven in part by antiquated facilities and more violent youths. The Oklahoma Public Employees Association opposes privatization. "We have supported and will continue to support state-run juvenile services, but OPEA will not sit idly by and watch private profiteers use political pressure to take advantage of the state of Oklahoma during these difficult economic times,” said Scott Barger, the association’s deputy director. The state Corrections Department contracts with private prisons to house state inmates.
BY THE NUMBERSYouth prisons L.E. Rader Center has 94 medium-security beds, 42 maximum-security beds, six special-care beds and six behavioral health beds. Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh has 116 medium-security beds. Southwestern Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Manitou has 78 medium-security beds.