The Oklahoman sat down recently with Keith Wilson, executive director of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs, the agency that oversees juvenile corrections. Wilson answered questions about the use of restraints in the agency’s two juvenile facilities following changes to the Terry D. v. Rader settlement agreement.
Q: What were some of the major changes brought by the settlement agreement in the Terry D. lawsuit?
A: There were some changes in the devices that can be used for restraints, primarily the blanket. It’s a lot safer to lay them (a juvenile) in the blanket and carry them that way. Fortunately we’re not having to use it too often.
Q: What about pepper spray?
A: It’s one of those things you do not want to use unless you have to use it. But there are times when it is safer to use it than to have physical combat. Our policy is you don’t use it unless you absolutely have to.
Q: But in most juvenile facilities, it’s not allowed at all.
A: That’s certainly true. But you have to first look at what young people they are getting in to those facilities. We only (use pepper spray) in our two medium-secure institutions. We call those medium secure, but the reality is, those are the only facilities we have. We don’t have a maximum.
Q: How about isolation?
A: Isolation is something you have to use from time to time. Our limit is three hours. We never put a kid in isolation for more than three hours without the supervision (of a mental health professional) unless it’s his normal bedtime. If it’s his normal bedtime, you can effectively put him to bed because they are all in isolation at bedtime.
Q: How do you monitor restraint use and potential misuse?
A: We have a camera system. It’s not a real good camera system but we are almost ready for the installation of a new system in both facilities which will give us broader coverage. Everything is recorded. In addition, we have certain workers, security officers, who carry portable cameras.
Q: In some places, staff default to using restraints rather than techniques like walk and talk because they believe it’s easier or quicker and they are overworked or understaffed. Do you believe that’s happening here?
A: I believe if you will look at the statistics, you will see there is more walk and talk going on in our institutions. We had already emphasized that we want walk and talk to be a part of what they do. The amount of time it is being used has been dramatically increased and we feel like that has a significant impact on the reduction of restraints we have. As the employees are better and better trained, they are more and more effective. But training takes money and that’s something we’re up against.