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July 05th, 2020

hooker detention facilityCourtesy photoROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

The juvenile detention center in Hooker, Okla., is one of several in that state facing cuts to its services, so much so that the facility could be shut down in the near future.

The detention facility is just of those established in the state after the Oklahoma Legislature passed a statute in 1994 requiring the Office of Juvenile Affairs to establish such facilities throughout the state in an effort to provide services to all regions in Oklahoma.

Texas County, Okla., District Attorney Mike Boring said this was to be done by July 1, 1996, and as a result of that statute, Texas County commissioners agreed to build a facility that would meet the requirement.

“They did that, and a contract was entered into with OJA for them to compensate Texas County for those beds,” he said. “Basically, it was determined, when all of this was being set up, that the minimum number of beds that could be feasibly operated anywhere in the state was a six-bed facility. Anything less than that, it just would not be functional because of the requirement of having staffing 24/7 to operate a facility.”

Boring said contracts have been continually renewed on the facility, with some renumbering along the way and an amendment to the statute in 1996.

“It specifically provides in the statute that it’s the intent of the legislature to establish such beds on a geographic basis throughout the state in order to provide more accessibility to services for all regions of the state,” he said.

Following the 1994 legislation through 2019, Oklahoma had established a total of 371 detention beds in a number of facilities across the state. Boring said, though, the focus recently has been to reduce the number of kids placed in detention as much as possible.

“In December, an agreement was reached between the Juvenile Detention Center group or organization and OJA that beginning in January 2021, the number of beds would be reduced down to 266 beds,” he said. “That would be effective July 1. That was a significant reduction that was agreed to.”

This week, Boring received a call from the administrator of the Hooker facility, who had received an agenda for OJA’s meeting the following morning. On that agenda was a proposal to not renew the facility’s contract and in effect close the facility.

Boring was able to get a three-minute comment period at the meeting. Following that period, the board approved a revised plan to cut the number of beds in the state to 229, including elimination of the Hooker facility.

With the next nearest facility for Panhandle juveniles in Woodward, Okla., this would create some problems, particularly when it comes to transporting youth to facilities. Boring said facilties in other parts of the state are facing similar problems.

“In April, one of the three facilities in Western Oklahoma for detention was in Beckham County, which is over in the middle of the state along the Texas border,” he said. “They closed that facility, which was a six-bed facility. That pushed all of their kids basically to Woodward. Woodward is an eight-bed facility and has been running basically at full capacity ever since April.”

Boring said even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Woodward facility has remained full. He added the OJA’s decision to close the Hooker facility was made with the assumption that area youth can be transported to Woodward and possibly even to Enid, Okla., in Garfield County.

“The problem with that is from Boise City, it’s 180 miles to Woodward,” he said. “From Boise City to Garfield County Detention Center’s 274 miles. From Guymon, it’s 211 miles, and we just simply can’t transport kids that far away from parents, family, counselors, our OJA workers and their support people they are associated with, our mentor programs and everything else.”

Boring said he believes OJA board members were trying to slide the issue under the radar, and his office only knew about it through a third party. Following the decision, the district attorney filed a motion to reconsider.

“In a rather lengthy proposition with OJA based upon the legislative directive that they were to establish these facilities in all geographic regions of the state,” he said. “We had that hearing in June. A motion was made to go ahead and renew our contract, but it died for lack of a second. Effective July 1, our facility would no longer be funded by OJA.”

Boring said he believes the purpose and intent of the 1994 statute, as well as the lawmakers who passed it, is clear in stating there must be a detention facility in each of Oklahoma’s geographical regions.

“It’s my position that Woodward is not in the same geographic region as the Panhandle,” he said. “If that’s the case, they can consult nearly all of the detention facilities in Oklahoma to Oklahoma City, and it would encompass about the same geographic area as from here to Woodward.”

Boring has been authorized by Texas County commissioners to proceed with seeking and filing, if possible, a petition against OJA to seek a court order and fund the facility in Hooker. He anticipated that litigation would be filed this week.

Boring said this kind of proceeding is an expedited one that takes priority over many other actions.

“I would anticipate, I hope, within 20 days, maybe a little longer or a little bit less, we would have a ruling from the court,” he said. 

The problem, however, is when an action is brought against a state agency in Oklahoma, it must be done in Oklahoma County, which encompasses a large portion of Oklahoma City.

“That concerns me, obviously, having to file it there, but we don’t have a choice about that,” he said. “I anticipate we will get this filed sometime this week, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep our facility here. We just absolutely feel like it is a necessity that we have it.”

Though he likes his chances of winning the case, Boring said those chances would be even better if the case was being handled closer to Texas County.

“If the law would’ve permitted us to file it here, I think we would’ve had a very strong likelihood of success,” he said. “Having to file it in Oklahoma County, I think, presents additional issues and concerns. I still think we have a good chance of winning this, but it’s not 100 percent. I would say it’s a toss up.”

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