OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Unruly juvenile inmates at the Pawnee County Detention Center are costing Oklahoma County taxpayers after the two counties had to renegotiate a contract to help pay for recent damages to jail property.
In just a couple of months, the juvenile offenders at the jail have caused more than $10,000 worth of damages to the Pawnee County Jail. They were moved there from Oklahoma County after a judge’s order earlier this summer. The issues have led to Pawnee County doubling the per diem price for each inmate they take on from $45 to $95 per day.
“They don’t seem to care,” said Pawnee County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Nick Mahoney. “We lose about one sprinkler a week, and we lose about 5,000 gallons of water when that happens.”
He says it has gotten so bad that his employees have threatened to quit.
“They were all ready to walk out,” Mahoney said. “The staff gave us an ultimatum [saying], ‘You’re gonna have to give us more money or you’re gonna have to get rid of the juveniles,’ and they would gladly forfeit their raise to get rid of them.”
Fortunately for Mahoney, they won’t have to house them much longer.
A state law takes effect on Nov. 1 that will require all juvenile inmates to be transferred out of county jails and to detention centers, including those with more serious offenses.
A county judge can require a juvenile accused of first-degree murder to be housed at a county jail, separate from the adults, but it requires an extensive process, including a hearing.
Previously, juveniles who are accused of more serious crimes could be held at a county jail, although they would be separated from the adult population in what’s called a “sight and sound separation.”
Juvenile delinquents who commit crimes that would be considered a felony, if they were tried as adults, were already held at county detention centers.
Rachel Holt with the Office of Juvenile Affairs says that transfer is necessary.
“Having a 16 year old in with a 50-year-old long-term inmate obviously not only causes trauma but a real safety situation,” she said.
In her experience, even the children accused of murder aren’t necessarily the most violent, saying many are made aware of the importance of good behavior by their attorneys.
“We find that the kids that commit those crimes aren’t typically any more dangerous,” she said.
J’me Overstreet with Oklahoma County Juvenile Bureau says they’re preparing for the changes, and they will likely take in about 15 juveniles accused of first-degree murder. They were already accepting youthful offenders, which are accused of higher offenses than a juvenile delinquent but don’t include first-degree murder.
“Every place is different places in terms of their preparation,” she said. “But I feel like we are really prepared, and yes it will go smooth. I think that even though there’s challenges with any youth sometimes, they need to be in a facility that is not adult.”
Yet Mahoney reaffirms that any transition could be bumpier than expected.
“Their theory may be sound but I believe it may be flawed,” he said. “I do believe that it’s a bit idealistic and they have illusions of grandeur if they think that they’re gonna come in and have no problems.”
The state law mirrors a federal law, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2018, which will require juveniles and adults across the country to be separated starting Dec. 1.