Improving Safety Across the Facility

Posted by Kim Godfrey
August 11, 2016

Performance-based Standards (PbS) is proud to announce Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center (COJC) as the winner of the 2016 Barbara Allen-Hagen Award for Correction facilities.

In 2011, COJC was in crises: youths were in charge, there were at least two injuries to youths daily, five times more than the PbS field average, there was an escape and a riot. Staff morale was low, fear was high. A new leadership team was brought in and over the past five years, they worked tirelessly to change policies, practices and the facility culture from a correctional control and punishment behavior management approach to treating all youths in custody like one of their own. They developed a PbS Facility Improvement Plan to establish facility-wide safety for youths and staff by reducing injuries and restraints. All while facing the challenges posed by COJC’s more than 100-year-old campus and an increasingly complex group of youths.

In 2016, COJC was selected as the PbS Barbara Allen-Hagen Award Winner for Correction facilities because the team’s efforts paid off and the culture changed. Injuries to youths were cut by two-thirds and injuries to staff dropped from the all-time high of 15 in April 2013 to one in April 2016, below the field average. Physical and mechanical restraint use has been steadily reducing and has been at or below the PbS field average for the past two years and their commitment to eliminate the use of chemical restraints shows because it has not been used for the past three data collections.

COJC is a campus-style facility built nearly 100 years ago as a facility for orphans and transitioned to Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) in 1995. It serves up to 72 young men ages 14-19 years old with a staff of 153. The youths stay an average of 421 days or about 14 months and come from across Oklahoma. It is located less than one hour from Oklahoma City on 30 acres on the outskirts of the small town of Tecumseh.

COJC’s success was realized by the leadership and dedication of COJC staff and the development of several innovative approaches to create positive, healthy staff-youth relationships and proactively identify and intervene before trouble begins. They refused to give up on culture change and continually developed new ways to work with the youths. For example, COJC created Halt Aggression Learning Opportunity (HALO), which designates specific staff members each shift to float around the campus and as needed, pull a youth out of a problematic situation as soon as it was recognized by either the direct care staff or the youth and devote one-on-one time with the youth until he was ready to return. Similarly,  COJC established the practice of “walk and talk” as the first response to youths who do act out rather than automatically using restraints to bring a youth into compliance. It took new and expanded staff training and replacing staff who did not buy in to the treatment approach with those who did.

COJC also enhanced its daily programming to keep the youths busy. Youths participate in music, art and visual therapies, on-site and off-site camping experiences, connections to colleges for those having completed their high school work and employment at local businesses for those having achieved Leadership status, the highest of the facility’s behavior management phase system. Youths work at nearby hardware stores, senior centers and employment bureau.

PbS State Coordinator Carol Miller explained: “Buy-in from every level of facility staff was critical to ongoing success and highlighted that communication is the foundation of safety.”