SAND SPRINGS — Officials at the state's youth detention center will begin implementing changes outlined in a proposed settlement agreement over civil rights issues, despite ongoing legal wrangling over how the agreement will be enforced. In a settlement filed last month, the state agreed to modify policies at the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs and is already taking steps to meet the requirements of the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, said Gene Christian, director of the state's juvenile affairs office. "We're moving forward as if the agreement is final,” Christian said. "We're leaving it solely in their hands to figure out legal ramifications. We're moving forward on our end.”
What are the accusations?In 2006, the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division filed a federal lawsuit against the state and the Office of Juvenile Affairs, alleging: •The conditions at Rader deprived youths of their civil rights. •Staff did not adequately address mental health issues and protect offenders from abuse by staff and other offenders. •There were sexually inappropriate relationships between staff and youth. •Imporoper management of psychotropic drugs and offenders who are suicidal. Nearly two years after the lawsuit was filed, the state and the Justice Department have reached a tentative agreement that includes 90 recommendations to address issues in training, policies and conditions at Rader. "I think we've addressed some of the deficiencies, and there are some things that we have learned in the process,” Christian said. "We've worked hard to reduce some of the image problem we've had there. The staff has made great strides.”
Agreement outlines changesIn mid-June, attorneys for the state and the Justice Department filed a proposed settlement agreement. For Christian, it was a blueprint of where Rader needs to be. The settlement, however, is awaiting judicial approval. U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell, in an order, said he was concerned about the legal aspects of the agreement and whether it met the requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which puts limits on how agreements can be enforced. The proposed agreement would be in place for three years. Christian said he's letting attorneys worry about the legal ramifications. Although the Sand Springs facility has never had an offender successfully commit suicide, crews are working to remove anchor points and blind corners where a youth might be able to hide or use clothing or some other device to hang themselves. "We're looking at everything from door hinges on the back of the door to grates in the ceiling to bed slats,” Christian said. "Basically we're removing anything with a 90-degree angle.” The agreement also requires a tracking system to be installed at Rader. The system will detect unauthorized movement by youth at the facility.
Keeping an extra eye outThe tracking system is expected to keep residents from accessing areas that cannot be monitored visually or with security cameras, according to the proposed agreement. The tracking system must be in place by Jan. 1. Other recommendations deal with staff policy on how to defuse violence and the use of restraint. All use-of-force incidents, including youth-on-youth violence, will be reviewed by the senior management at the facility. Weekly training will be conducted on use of force, and videotaped incidents will be reviewed to make sure employees are following the guidelines, according to the agreement. Another provision prohibits staff from directing youth to restrain another youth. The agreement also calls for better assessment and classification practices that will identify suicidal youth and get them the proper services, according to court filings. A mental health assessment must be completed in the first 24 hours that a youth is at Rader. A youth's age, sexual predatory history or sexual victimization history will also be considered in housing young people, the filing said. Christian said the facility has already moved young offenders who are at Rader for sexual crimes. Those offenders are housed in individual cells that can be locked at night. In the past, offenders who have been sent to Rader for sexual offenses were housed in dormitories, Christian said. "We can already show a marked decline sexual assault youth on youth,” Christian said. "We're realigning the whole unit and we're tracking those numbers on a regular basis.”
AT A GLANCE
Who will pay for the changes?The Office of Juvenile Affairs is using $2 million in supplemental funds from the Legislature to make improvements at the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs. The improvements were included in a proposed settlement agreement over civil rights issues at the juvenile center.
By the numbersThere are about 138 youth serving sentences at the Rader center. The average stay for an offender is usually no longer than 200 days, Christian said.