Oklahoma's Terry Cline: Juvenile justice support eroded in recent years
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Thursday, January 03, 2013
1/03/13 at 8:28 AM
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Support for adequately funding Oklahoma's juvenile justice system has eroded in recent years, placing the public at risk, the state's secretary for Health and Human Services said this week.
Terry Cline, who supervises agencies that include the Office of Juvenile Affairs, said he has "grave concern about the underfunding of OJA."
Cline's statement comes weeks after a 14-year-old Jenks boy, Joshua Scott Mooney, was arrested in connection with the shooting death of a woman during a burglary.
At one time, lawmakers and the public supported funding to adequately treat juveniles or lock up those who presented the most danger, Cline said.
"The political will to support the agency and its mission has eroded over time," Cline said in an interview Monday. "If we're not serving that population in an adequate fashion, it puts the public at risk."
In November, Tulsa County voters turned down the $748 million Vision 2 package, which included $38 million for a new juvenile justice facility. The current facility, built in 1968, is run down and overcrowded, county officials say.
In 2011, the OJA closed the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, largely due to budget constraints. It was the state's only maximum-security lockup for youths.
The agency's new director, Keith Wilson, has said he is unsure whether the Legislature or the governor would support building a new facility to replace Rader. Meanwhile, assaults on other juveniles and staff members have increased significantly at one of the juvenile facilities now housing the most violent offenders, OJA officials said last month.
Cline said two other agencies under his supervision - the Department of Human Services and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services - struggled in the past with some of the issues now facing OJA.
Late last year, DHS settled a federal class-action lawsuit over the state's foster-care system. The agency developed its "Pinnacle Plan" to address the issues raised.
DHS also has a new director, Ed Lake, who brings a "fresh perspective" to old problems, Cline said.
National attention has been focused on mental health treatment following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., he noted. Oklahoma's mental health agency has a list of more than 600 people awaiting substance-abuse treatment, and its system is designed to help only those with serious mental illnesses, Cline said.
In August, a Tulsa World story detailed how off-duty Tulsa police officers were transporting mentally ill people to facilities across the state due to a lack of beds in facilities in the area. Cline said that indicates a lack of adequate outpatient providers.
"We're not getting people into treatment early enough," he said. "Our system is not designed to move upstream."
However, Cline said the agencies under his supervision, including the Department of Mental Health, have received sustained support from lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin during the economic downturn.
"The Cabinet as a whole has received support these last couple of legislative sessions. We've had the smallest (funding) decrease. The Legislature and governor - both groups stepped up to the plate."
Cline said one bright spot in state government is the programs funded by the federal tobacco settlement to encourage healthier lifestyles. Oklahoma ranks at or near the bottom in several categories related to public health, and Cline said such programs are an important part of improving the state's rankings.
The state is giving $2.7 million in grants over three years to encourage cities to enact policies, programs and ordinances to enhance public health. Businesses and schools can also apply for the grants.
Julie Bisbee, public information officer for the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, said the grants are given to cities with policies in place to promote healthy lifestyles. Last year was the first year for the grants, and recipients in northeast Oklahoma included Collinsville, Okmulgee and Bartlesville, she said.
The city of Tulsa was not among the first 14 cities chosen last year for the grants, which range from $2,000 to $50,000 each.
Bisbee said Collinsville is using its funds to link sidewalks, while Bartlesville is purchasing bicycle racks for public use. In Okmulgee, officials are using a $13,000 grant to expand a community garden, she said.
Original Print Headline: Juvenile justice support decried
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
Terry Cline: "If we're not serving that population (juveniles) in an adequate fashion, it puts the public at risk."