March 29, 2016

Bill Would Change Work Qualifications for Juvenile, Corrections Directors

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Steven Buck

Steven Buck

Under current state law, the new executive director of the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs appears ineligible to hold the job.

Also, the new Oklahoma Department of Corrections interim director appears ineligible to become the permanent director.

In an effort to smooth the issues, the Legislature is considering a Senate bill that would reduce the work experience requirements for both positions. That would move Steven Buck closer to qualifying by law for the job he was appointed to in January – executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs.

It would do the same for Joe Allbaugh should he be offered, and accept, moving from interim Corrections Department director to permanent director.

But the law’s changes still wouldn’t make them eligible because, for now, they lack the educational requirements, Oklahoma Watch found.

Both Paula Christiansen, OJA spokeswoman, and Terri Watkins, Corrections Department spokeswoman, said their offices did not request the legislation.

The co-authors of Senate Bill 1381 – Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, and Rep. Elise Hall, R-Bethany – did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Interim Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh

Joe Allbaugh

Under current law, the Juvenile Affairs director must have at least a master’s degree and three years’ work experience in corrections or juvenile justice, or a bachelor’s degree and at least four years’ work experience in corrections or juvenile justice.

SB 1381, introduced on Jan. 21, would change the requirements for OJA director to holding a master’s degree in a field related to juvenile affairs and having successful administrative experience.

During a special meeting on the day after the bill was introduced, the Board of Juvenile Affairs hired Buck as director. Since 2007, he had been deputy commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Before then, he was director of state policy at the National Alliance for Mental Illness. Despite his work in mental health, social work and administration, he does not have work experience in juvenile justice or corrections.

Buck also does not have a master’s degree, but said he is working on his master’s thesis. He said he was not privy to discussions the board had about his hiring, but the requirements were likely part of that process.

“They felt confident to offer me the full directorship without an interim designation, so I met the qualifications based on their deliberations” Buck said.

For the corrections director, state law requires the person to have at least a master’s degree and five years’ work experience in the correctional field, or a bachelor’s degree and at least six years’ experience in corrections.

SB 1381 would change the requirements to holding a master’s degree and five years of unspecified professional-level work.

On Jan. 7, after the departure of Corrections Director Robert Patton, the state Board of Corrections hired Allbaugh as interim director. Allbaugh served as former President George W. Bush’s chief of staff while Bush was governor of Texas. Allbaugh also served as FEMA director under Bush, and afterward ran a private consulting company, but he does not have experience in corrections work.

Allbaugh has said he is unsure whether he will eventually seek to become permanent director of the department.

His highest degree is a bachelor’s in political science. Watkins, DOC spokeswoman, said she did not know whether the remaining master’s degree requirement would preclude him from eventually accepting the post on a permanent basis.

On Feb. 29, SB 1381 passed the Senate, 36-8, on a party-line vote, with all Senate Democrats opposed and all Republicans in favor.

The bill was passed out of the House Committee on Children, Youth and Family on Friday. It could be brought to the House floor for passage prior to the April 21 deadline to hear legislation from the Senate.