Report Proposes Reforms to Oklahoma’s Juvenile Justice System

By Keaton Ross | Criminal Justice Reporter/Report For America Corps Member

Oklahoma has made significant progress in diverting children away from the justice system.

Youth referrals to juvenile courts have dropped substantially over the past decade, from 18,000 in 2011 to just over 8,000 in 2020. The decline has prompted the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs to consolidate three juvenile detention facilities into one campus. 

But researchers say more work must be done to make the state’s juvenile justice system equitable for all. 

On Monday, the Oklahoma Policy Institute released an in-depth report detailing racial disparities in youth referrals and cost burdens the juvenile justice system places on families.

Black children are three times more likely to be arrested and 6.4 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth, the report notes. The researchers also note that families often must pay monthly supervision and treatment fees. 

The report lists several reform recommendations, including establishing a minimum age of criminal responsibility and eliminating all youth court fines and fees. 

“We’re not going to be able to fix the system in a year, and we probably won’t be able to fix it in two,” policy director Carly Putnam said during a roundtable discussion on Monday afternoon. “This is going to require commitment and collaboration and intentional action over time.” 

One proposal before the legislature, House Bill 3205 by Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater, would lower probation, program and legal counsel fees. The bill unanimously cleared the House last week and is eligible for consideration in the Senate. 

“The strain of these costs can be overwhelming for already financially-stressed families,” Talley said in a statement. “In many cases, the juvenile offenders themselves aren’t the ones who end up paying the fees, but instead the burden falls on their parents. As a result, the siblings of the juvenile offender suffer due to their sibling’s choices. I am so grateful that this bill passed the House unanimously and with bipartisan support, and I look forward to seeing its progress in the Senate.”

My work at Oklahoma Watch has focused primarily on Oklahoma’s adult prisons and courts, but I’m interested in examining issues and possible solutions in our juvenile justice system. What problems should I know about? Did an area of the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s report catch your attention? DM me on Twitter or email Kross@oklahomawatch.org

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A bill that would have barred death row prisoners from presenting an innocence claim to the Pardon and Parole Board won’t be considered this session.

Several Democratic lawmakers and justice reform advocates have suggested the bill was drafted in retaliation to Julius Jones’ death sentence being commuted to life without parole.

What I’m Reading This Week:

  • Gov. Kevin Stitt to Face New Attacks Over Commutation Decisions: A dark money group is preparing to release new attack ads targeting Stitt for releasing hundreds of state prisoners. Some conservative lawmakers and justice reform advocates say the attacks aren’t warranted. [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma’s Most Dangerous Offenders Taking Jobs You Might Not Expect: A man serving eight life sentences for child sexual abuse was granted internet access in a prison call center. The prisoner uploaded child pornography onto a Department of Corrections computer, investigators say. Call centers in state prisons are temporarily shut down pending a full investigation. [KOKH]
  • Wilson Officer Fired After Lying About Role in Shooting: Former Wilson Police Department officer Tyler Skinner told investigators an alleged shooting between him and a suspect was fabricated. [News 9]
  • This Police Chief is Hiring Female Officers to Fix ‘Toxic’ Policing: Female police officers from as far away as New Mexico are coming to work at the Bellevue, Nebraska Police Department. Chief Ken Cleary says research and his own experience enforce the idea that diversity makes for better policing. [The Washington Post]

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