State agency ends juvenile detention pact

Nathan Thompson

The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs terminated its agreement Monday with Osage County to house a juvenile detention center within the Osage County Jail.

The notice of termination was given to the Osage County Board of Commissioners by OJA’s Deputy Director Terry Smith.

In the termination letter, OJA Executive Director Steven Burk wrote the Office of Juvenile Affairs received a letter on July 12 from Osage County District Attorney Rex Duncan stating the Osage County Sheriff’s Office stopped the contract for Youth Services of Osage County to run the juvenile detention center at the county jail.

In order to remain in compliance with OJA regulations for the county to run the juvenile center, it must provide a full-service detention facility. Since the Osage County facility was no longer full-service, OJA terminated the agreement.

“OJA may consider negotiating a new contract, based on the demand and available resources, if the county is able to obtain a new facility and proper licensure,” Burk wrote in the letter.

According to Osage County Board of Commissioners Chairman Darren McKinney, the agenda for Monday’s Board of County Commissioners included an action item to terminate the agreement with OJA.

“We had the item on the agenda because we were planning to end the agreement ourselves, but the Office of Juvenile Affairs decided to stop the agreement with the termination letter they delivered during the meeting,” McKinney said.

The Osage County facility for juvenile detention was the only one located within a jail, McKinney said. All other facilities in Oklahoma were separate from the jail.

Between six to eight juveniles could be held in a pod that was inside the Osage County Jail, but that pod was right next to pods that housed adults.

“It really wasn’t a good situation,” McKinney said. “There were safety concerns for the juveniles and for our detention staff. The juveniles did not need to be in that situation.”

McKinney said the concern has been an ongoing issue for the past seven months. After Youth Services of Osage County was no longer running the juvenile detention center, the facility has not housed juveniles for at least three weeks, McKinney said.

Office of Juvenile Affairs Public Information Officer Paula Christiansen said all youth have been relocated to other facilities.

The only other juvenile detention facility in OJA’s District 2 is in Craig County. District 2 is comprised of Noble, Pawnee, Osage, Washington, Nowata, Rogers, Craig, Mayes, Ottawa and Delaware Counties.

Christiansen said the Craig County facility has room for 18 juveniles. With the closure of the Osage County juvenile detention center, she said OJA is willing to explore other options with Osage County government.

“Ideally, all services for young people are delivered as close to home as possible,” Christiansen said. “Our termination letter clearly articulates our willingness to explore a different facility. However, the Commissioners have yet to provide us a concrete plan for consideration.

“Balancing availability of beds versus demand for beds is an every-day concern. We will continue to monitor both statewide and local demand as next steps are contemplated.”

McKinney said the former juvenile pod in the Osage County jail will become space for adult inmates with room for up to 20 adult beds.

“We’re overcrowded at the jail and this will allow us more space for adults,” McKinney said. “We will begin changing it over to an adult pod after Office of Juvenile Services and Youth Services of Osage County clears their equipment out.”