MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 26, 2014

Two juvenile lockups violated isolation rules, records show

Youths kept past three-hour limit, sometimes for full day

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Staff members at two juvenile corrections facilities in Oklahoma routinely exceeded the limits on the amount time a youth can spend in isolation, state records show.

An analysis of two years’ of restraint logs from the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh and at Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Manitou found that staff members routinely exceeded the state limit of three hours in isolation for juveniles, according to a story published Sunday in the Oklahoman.

The Tecumseh facility had 270 instances in 2012 and 2013 when youth were held in isolation. Of those cases, the isolation time exceeded the three-hour limit in 112 instances. In several cases, youth were isolated for a day or more, according to the logs.

At Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Manitou, youths were isolated 79 times during 2012 and 2013. Of those, 32 instances exceeded three hours.

Keith Wilson, executive director of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs, said isolation can surpass three hours if a mental health professional assesses the child and allows for it to continue. He said isolation periods sometime extend through a child’s bedtime, which wouldn’t count toward the three-hour maximum.

Staff members at the Tecumseh center were also found to have used pepper spray on juveniles 19 times in 2012 and 2013. Twelve percent of juvenile facilities across the nation authorize staff to carry pepper spray, which can incapacitate a person with a burning sensation of the skin and burning, tearing and swelling of the eyes, according to a 2011 report by the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators.

The newspaper found that handcuffs are also used an average of 1 1/2Ω times a day on the juveniles at the Tecumseh facility.

Juvenile justice advocate Jon Trzcinski said incarcerated youth will re-enter the community, so the challenge is to keep them from a path that sends them to the adult corrections system.

“Juvenile justice programs are built upon the idea that kids are salvageable, and you have an opportunity to intervene in whatever it is they’ve been doing and help them right the ship, so to speak, and live a happy and productive life,” Trzcinski said.

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