More than half of Oklahoma’s juvenile offenders are held in detention centers that aren’t required to comply with federal standards for preventing sexual assault proposed by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).
Oklahoma’s rates of sexual assault in juvenile detention centers are much higher than rates in many other states. A Department of Justice (DOJ) survey of juveniles in the system conducted between 2007 and 2012 reported that 18.4 percent of 46 juveniles in six Oklahoma detention centers and group homes had reported some form of sexual assault.
The national rate of sexual assault in juvenile detention centers is 9.5 percent. The rate in Oklahoma reported by the DOJ is nearly twice that.
However, justice officials claim that many of the youth surveyed were likely making false allegations.
According to a 2012 DOJ survey on sexual assault in juvenile detention centers across the nation, many of the teens were assaulted by center faculty members, and twenty percent said “they had been violated on more than ten occasions.”
On average, the national rates of sexual assaults on juveniles by staff members in detention centers and group homes were found to be three times higher than national rates of assault in adult centers.
The state’s three juvenile detention centers run by the Office of Juvenile Affairs do comply with federal policies. However, centers that the state contracts with, particularly privately run groups, are not required to comply.
Yet these regulations are required in all Oklahoma state adult prisons and halfway houses, as well as some county prisons.
Within the institutions not required to comply with federal standards, there are 244 juveniles in group homes and an unknown amount occupying 309 beds in county centers. These figures don’t include juveniles held for 24 hours in nine community intervention centers for offenses such as underage drinking.
Some states require compliance and others don’t—there’s some disagreement on the matter between state officials and national experts.
Compliance would be too costly, according to state and county officials. Additionally, officials are concerned that small group homes and county centers will have trouble implementing the standards.
In 2012, the US Justice Department issued standards and required state governments to implement them in state and contracted facilities at risk of losing 5 percent of their annual Justice Department grant funds.
However, according to Oklahoma Watch, “the state exempts county detention centers because it says they are outside of its ‘operational control,’ and group homes because they use a social and medical model approach.’”
In 2015, Gov. Mary Fallin stated in a letter to the DOJ that the state would make steps to improve regulations preventing sexual assault, but also commented that many of the requirements are costly and unrealistic, and that they “ignore the operational realities of the adult and juvenile correctional industry.”