JUVENILE DETENTION CENTER CONTRACT CREATES CONTROVERSY

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Four juveniles who were previously housed at the Woodward County Juvenile Center have been moved after the contractor running the facility allegedly abandoned the facility this week.

After reports surfaced of Eastern Oklahoma Youth Services (EOYS) abandoning the Northwest Oklahoma Juvenile Detention Center located in Woodward, EOYS executive director Kent Kelley sat down with K101 to discuss the issue. Since 1993, EOYS has been running the detention center in Woodward, reporting significant financial losses in November of 2018.

Those losses, Kelley said, were due to lack of funding from Oklahoma Juvenile Affairs, unexpected raises in insurances, and utilization of the facility falling to 50%.

According to Kelley, the county commission violated the open meetings act in 2018 by outsourcing the contract to Western Plains Youth and Family Services of Woodward without offering EOYS the opportunity to counter offer. Only after EOYS started appearing at Woodward county commission meetings to contest turning over the contract, were they given an opportunity to do so, he said.

At the Monday, May 6th meeting, Woodward County commissioners awarded the contract to Western Plains due to a lower rate on beds and also promises of upgrading the facility to include mental health services.

But Kelley says he spoke with Oklahoma Juvenile Affairs, and no such plans are in the works at the facility. On Tuesday, May 7th, EOYS enacted their plan to shut down the facility if their contract was not renewed.

Kelley stated that commissioners did not physically sign the contract between EOYS and Woodward County and so EOYS therefore, is not in breach of contract by ceasing their operations of the facility, which Kelley referred to as a “lame duck” because it had been hemorrhaging money over the last two years.

EOYS has been working on a verbal understanding to run the juvenile detention center as opposed to a binding contract, Kelley said.

Commissioners agreed to the contract in the minutes of the meeting on a three-year extension of the contract, according to Woodward County documents.

Both District 26 District Attorney Chris Boring and Oklahoma Juvenile Affairs were notified of the center closing.

But Boring said there was no violation of the Open Meetings and Records Act.

“I am unaware of any violations of the open meetings act as referenced by Mr. Kelley. Eastern Oklahoma Youth Services (EOYS) had the same opportunity to submit proposals as did anyone else. They chose not to, until Western Plains decided to submit a proposal. It is my understanding that initially they did not even want to submit a proposal for the next fiscal year,” Boring said.

Boring said EOYS simply closed the facility because they were angry over the loss of the contract.

“It appears to me that EOYS has a contractual obligation to the county to provide services until June 30, 2019. They have chosen not to fulfill their obligations and on their own closed the facility and provided no notice to the Board of County Commissioners. In fact, I received notification from a local OJA worker. I then attempted contact with the company, but the contact information was not accurate. I received an email from Kent Kelley notifying me of their termination of business operations. They had an obligation to run the facility until the end of the fiscal year, and they have failed to perform their obligations,” Boring said.

Kelley stated that the commission has only been focused on the bottom dollar and never consulted EOYS on the best way to move forward with the detention center, and that they were the ones who were abandoned when the county gave away their contract without their knowledge.

According to First District Commissioner Troy White, the decision was made in the best interest of Woodward.

“The decision of the Board of County Commissioners to enter into contract with WPYFS was a simple one. EOYS proposed a daily rate of $75.84 compared to $58/day proposed by WPYFS. In addition, Eastern Oklahoma Youth Services already contracts with Western Plains Youth and Family Services to provide some counseling and educational services in the Woodward facility,” White stated.

“The decision to award the contract was not only a prudent financial decision for Woodward County but one based upon quality of services provided to the juveniles housed at the facility. Eastern Oklahoma Youth Services’ inability to manage their own finances and to operate the Woodward County facility at a loss is not the Woodward County Commissioner’s concern. Potential Legal Action is pending from Woodward County due EOYS abandonment of the user contract, the facility, their own staff and the juveniles housed at the facility.”

On Tuesday Woodward County commissioners sent out a notice calling for an emergency session on Thursday, May 9th at 1 p.m. to officially emplace Western Plains Youth and Family Services to run the detention center for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The four juveniles that were being held at the Woodward facility have been transferred to other counties; 3 to Texas County and 1 to Beckham County. Woodward County will pay the difference until the facility can reopen.

All employees working for EOYS are able to transfer over to Western Plains as new employees, but will not immediately receive medical benefits, according to leaders of Western Plains Youth and Family Services.

Story by Zach Bryan

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