- Associated Press - Sunday, April 12, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The use of pepper spray on Oklahoma’s incarcerated youths is being reevaluated by the board that oversees juvenile corrections in the state.

Pepper spray is a chemical agent that incapacitates a person with a burning sensation of the skin and burning, tearing and swelling of the eyes. Juvenile security officers are allowed to use it when force is allowed, such as an attempted escape, fighting or to protect staff and youth who are at risk of being harmed, The Oklahoman reported Sunday (https://bit.ly/1D9p4rt ).

But several Office of Juvenile Affairs board members have spoken out against using pepper spray and vowed to examine ways to discontinue, or further restrict, its use.

“We’ve got to make sure that we first of all, do what’s best for kids,” Vice Chairman Scott Williams said.

Use of the chemical agent was first approved for use in state juvenile facilities in 2012 following two large disturbances at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh that required local police to respond. Violence there escalated after the state’s only maximum-security juvenile facility, L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, closed and those youth were transferred to Tecumseh.

Statistics provided by OJA indicate it has been used 44 times at the state’s two juvenile facilities - Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh and Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Manitou -since 2012 and represents 1 percent of the total use of force by staff.

In certain situations, using pepper spray is useful to deescalate a volatile situation quickly and reduce physical interaction between youth and staff, said Robert Morey, OJA’s administrator for institutional services.

Morey attributes the agency’s reduction in workers compensation costs to the use of pepper spray, because staff members are using physical restraint less frequently, which could cause them to be injured. The agency had 20 workers compensation claims in fiscal year 2014 at a cost of $82,189, down from $384,500 in 2013 and $534,747 in 2012.

Critics of using pepper spray and other restraints on incarcerated youth say it damages the relationship between staff and youth and is detrimental to their treatment.


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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