Muskogee County commissioners are exploring available options for housing juvenile offenders after learning about recent cancellation of contracts by facilities in other counties that used to accommodate local overflow situations.
Sheriff Rob Frazier told commissioners during a recent meeting there was a need to secure additional beds for local juveniles. The news comes after the cancellation of a half-dozen contracts during the past year and temporary closure of Muskogee County Regional Juvenile Detention Center due to safety violations.
Frazier said a possible solution could be to partner with the city to expand a juvenile program previously operated by the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office before state funding dried up. He said that option would “cost a little bit of money,” but it could help avoid the “disruption” of operations and potential lawsuits when the county jail is used as emergency housing for juvenile offenders.
Ron Coplan, District 5 supervisor for the Office of Juvenile Affairs, told commissioners the entities that have canceled contracts gave no reason for the decision “other than Muskogee has bad kids.” He said Muskogee County juveniles were being singled out by the operators of those facilities, which “basically are saying ‘we won’t take your kids.’”
“They are working on a new state plan that hopefully will address that, but the state plan that is in place now allows them to do that,” Coplan said. “The counties right now can take whatever kids they want to under the way the plan is written now.”
Recent contract cancellations, Coplan said, included those made with Pittsburg, Cleveland and Le Flore counties along the Sac & Fox Nation. Tulsa County canceled its contract with Muskogee County about a year ago.
District 3 Commissioner Kenny Payne questioned whether commissioners could use the 10 beds at the regional facility here solely for local juveniles. While that seems to be the case pursuant to the existing state plan, he said realistically those beds need to be filled every day the facility is open, and local demand is not that high.
“There would be times when they could be full of Muskogee kids, but there’s also going to be a lot of times when there wouldn’t be enough to fill it,” Payne said. “When it’s open we need it to be full, regardless of who might be in it.”
Payne said the contractor hired by commissioners to operate the facility has spent the past few weeks training a new staff in preparation of reopening. OJA officials must authorize the reopening of the facility, which was closed after an inspection revealed discrepancies between activity logs and surveillance video images.
District 1 Commissioners Ken Doke said he would like to see some changes in the contract the county has with OJA before the juvenile detention center reopens. He said the contract for facility operations should be between the contractor that manages operations and OJA, which funds operations.
“We should be the landlords only as owners of the facility,” Doke said about proposed limits on commissioners’ liability, an issue they are defending as part of a lawsuit brought on behalf of the estate of a teen found hanged in a cell December 2016. “It’s a regional facility, and if it’s ran by the state and the state pays the operators, the contract should be between OJA and the contractor, not the county.”
The juvenile detention facility in Muskogee is one of 17 regional detention centers that accept youth from jurisdictions across the state.