SAND SPRINGS — The state’s maximum-security juvenile facility is one of 13 juvenile centers across the country with the highest rates of sexual abuse and victimization, according to a federal report.
A Justice Department study released Thursday found that 25 percent of youth surveyed at L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs said they had experienced some type of sexual victimization, which could include contact with another person’s genitals, intercourse or any sexual acts with a staff member.
The survey also showed that 16.7 percent of the youth at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh said they had been sexually victimized.
The national average is 12 percent, the study said.
Gene Christian, executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs, said changes already were being made to protect juveniles, including shutting down cottages at the Rader Center.
"Even one (assault) is too many,” Christian said. "We anticipated these numbers, and that’s the reason we’re starting to close some of the cottages at Rader and getting the population down there.”
By July, the agency expects to reduce its population at Rader to about 60 juveniles. Only the maximum-security unit and a unit for juvenile sex offenders will remain open, he said.
The design of the units at the Rader center makes it difficult to monitor juveniles, as well as staff, Christian said. The cottages are older with blind spots in sleeping areas and at the entrances of bathrooms, he said.
"Are there problems? Yes there are problems,” Christian said. "If there are blind spots for the youth, there are blind spots for the staff. If it’s hard to monitor the juveniles, it’s going to be hard to monitor staff.”
The majority of assaults reported by juveniles at facilities in Oklahoma were with staff, according to the survey conducted by Westat, a Maryland-based company working for the government.