New Juvenile Justice Center needed
BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, November 04, 2012
11/04/12 at 3:03 AM
Back in the day, the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau was a state-of-the-art facility. That day was around the time Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey for the presidency.
Despite remodels and retrofits, the 44-year-old facility at 315 S. Gilcrease Museum Road, remains grossly inadequate - a 46,000-square-foot example of outdated design, situated in a floodplain. Its cramped and crowded environment presents a challenge for those working to turn kids' lives around - in fact, it's hard to turn around there - period.
The Vision2 package before voters Tuesday includes two propositions that would extend the 0.6 percent Vision 2025 sales-tax rate through 2029. Proposition 1 would fund improvements to the Tulsa airport industrial complex and a deal-closing fund. Proposition 2 would pay for countywide quality-of-life projects including a new $38 million juvenile justice center housing the Juvenile Bureau and Juvenile Court. It likely would be built downtown. Family courts, presently shoehorned into the, yes, overcrowded county courthouse, might be moved to the center.
City and county leaders have been accused of putting Vision2 projects together too quickly and without sufficient citizen input. A few projects might fall into that category but most do not and have been thoroughly vetted. That includes the juvenile justice center. Through the years, county leaders have left no stone unturned trying to find an appropriate site, rallying private and public support and documenting the enormous, pressing need for a new facility.
Tulsa County voters are not fond of spending money on criminal justice facilities - witness the multiple tries it took to get a tax passed to build a new jail. In a perfect world, scarce revenues would be reserved for such things as better roads, other infrastructure and a few grand projects such as the world-class BOK Center that brings pleasure to many and generates sales tax revenues.
The proposed juvenile center would not produce tax revenues; it is not glamorous. A juvenile facility is not something that most county residents come into contact with regularly. If they think about it at all, it's likely in the context of: "Oh, that's the place they'll take that little punk who broke my window, snatched my purse, went joyriding in my Jetta."
Yes it is. But it's more. Juvenile Court hears delinquency cases but it also deals with cases of alleged parental abuse and neglect of children - minors who end up there through no fault of their own. The Juvenile Bureau includes a 55-bed detention facility and probation and education services. The county is bound by state law to provide those services.
The center would include six courtrooms with appropriate and secure holding areas, a detention unit, classrooms and a cafeteria. A new, functional complex could produce better outcomes and certainly would make the administration of justice easier.
How much longer can taxpayers afford to pour money into an aging structure with high maintenance costs? The detention area is outdated. The public defender's staff operates out of a converted bathroom and the assistant district attorneys' offices are no better. Court bailiffs office in a remodeled broom closet. Judges are working out of "compression" chambers. Security is a major issue and attorneys have no privacy to consult with clients. Social services for kids are scattered instead of being housed where professionals could help kids on the spot.
Contrast that with El Reno in Canadian County. Years ago, county commissioners used a sales tax to build a new complex with state-of-the art detention facilities, a shelter, adequate courtrooms and all bureau staff and support personnel under one roof.
That's so different than the situation here, where 100 juvenile center personnel are trying to do the right thing for about 6,000 troubled or abused kids each year. That staff does an excellent job but facility-wise they're working out of a "Dickensian" dump - delivering services amidst deplorable conditions. These are the people working their hardest to make sure that "little punk," who broke your window, does not grow up to become a full-size criminal who breaks down your door.
You may not like Vision2. But most of us like kids. Some kids need intervention or their behavior will get worse. Give those people who can turn teens' lives around a decent, functional place to do their jobs. We all benefit. Vote for Proposition 2 on Tuesday.
Original Print Headline: 'Dickensian' dump
Julie DelCour 918-581-8379