Tulsa, OK Criminal Defense & Family Law Blog

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Perils of Juvenile Detention

Why don't juvenile facilities comply with U.S. rape prevention standards?

Incarcerated juvenile offenders are at a greater risk of being sexually assaulted because they are being held in certain facilities that do not meet U.S. rape prevention standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The standards are mandated for all adult prisons, half-way houses and a number of county jails.

Three state facilities run by the Office of Juvenile Affairs reportedly comply with PREA guidelines, but facilities the state contracts with are not required to comply because officials say compliance would be too costly. The state outsources juveniles to privately run group homes and county-run juvenile centers where they are at greater risk of being assaulted.

PREA Requirements

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice issued standards and required states to ensure that state-run and state-contracted juvenile facilities adhere to the federal standards. Under PREA, facilities that confine offenders in the criminal adult and juvenile justice systems must take specific steps to reduce incidents of sexual abuse including:

  • Training staff on prevention and proper behavior
  • Having staff-to-detainee ratio minimums
  • Having cameras to eliminate blind spots
  • Reporting incidents of sex crimes

Failing to do so places the states at risk of losing 5 percent of its annual Justice Department grant funds. Oklahoma, however, exempts county detention centers, claiming that these facilities are outside of its operational control, while group homes rely on different detention models. The governor also has argued that many of the requirements are costly and unrealistic.

The Prevalence of Assault

While the prevalence of sexual assault is unclear, possibly because these crimes are underreported, a DOJ survey of juveniles held in the system between 2007 and 2012 found that more than 18 percent reported being assaulted by another youth or facility staff member. Some argue that many of those surveyed made false accusations and that the recent findings show that the rate of sexual abuse is declining.

The Detention System

The state's juvenile detention system consists of three state-run secure detention centers, 15 privately run group homes, 17 county detention centers, where offenders stay for anywhere from a day to three months, and community intervention centers. Presently, 160 juveniles are housed in state-run centers, 244 in group homes, and "unknown numbers" in the 309 beds in county centers. Based on the rate of incidents reported, the potential for more juveniles to be assaulted is alarming, and this is a very good reason to avoid being detained in a juvenile facility. In the meantime, it remains unclear whether the state will require contracted facilities to comply with PREA. If you have a loved one who has been charged with a juvenile offense, a criminal defense attorney can advise you about options to avoid detention facilities.

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