Oklahoma’s juvenile justice system mirrors some of the same deficiencies as the one for the state’s adult offenders, a report released Monday said.
“Historically, Oklahoma has fallen on the side of punishment rather than rehabilitation and has only implemented important protections for children in its justice system when legal action has specifically required it to do so,” the report states.
The report chronicles some of that legal action and notes recent reforms, but concludes that “Oklahoma’s historical legacy continues in the form of ongoing disinvestment in communities and families.”
The 80-page “Better Tomorrows: A Landscape Analysis of Oklahoma’s Youth Justice System and Suggested Reforms,” by the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Ashley Harvey, combines data and more than 60 interviews that included children in the system, their parents and relevant organizations.
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Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Justice Executive Director Rachel Holt, who was part of a panel discussion accompanying the report’s release, said she tells her staff: “Juvenile justice should mean justice for juveniles. My goal is that every child that touches that system is treated equally.
“This is not … Perry Mason,” said Holt, a former Oklahoma County assistant district attorney. “Juvenile justice done correctly is a collaboration.”
Progress has been made, the report says. Referrals — an official complaint or report alleging a youthful offense — have dropped by more than half in the last decade. Most referrals are for low-level offenses, and the overwhelming majority of young people put into diversionary programs instead of detention complete them successfully.
But the report also found wide variations in the types of services and programs available, the application of the law and even referral rate. It also found children of color were much more likely than whites to be arrested and to be incarcerated.
Recommendations from the report include:
Eliminate court fines and fees for juveniles and their families.
Ensure quality legal counsel for justice-involved children.
Establish a minimum age of criminal responsibility in Oklahoma.
Increase transparency and accountability through, clearly defined reporting.
Better family engagement by relevant agencies.
Invest in Oklahoma families.
Extend and expand support services, particularly in rural areas.
Fully fund core services and agencies in the youth justice sector.
Breaking the Cycle: The Tulsa World’s 8-day series on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Oklahoma ranks high for several social ills that have been linked to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scores. A few examples:
Tulsa World ACEs advisory board
Kristin Atchley uses past trauma to advocate for children dealing with adverse conditions
Podcast: Listen to story behind the Tulsa World special report on Adverse Childhood Experiences
The podcast, hosted by Matt Gleason with the Mental Health Association Oklahoma, includes interviews with three people who played key roles in the series.
Lucinda Morte is a mental health professional who has a relatively high ACE score herself.
Donavon Ramsey is a resilient 19-year-old with a high ACE score and plenty of heartbreaking stories.
Ashley Parrish, the Tulsa World’s deputy managing editor who oversaw the year-long process to make the Breaking the Cycle series a reality.
“The Mental Health Download” shares stories each month about mental illness, homelessness, incarceration and suicide, and how each can impact our lives in a profound way.