Editorial: Juvenile justice funding goes wanting
BY World's Editorials Writers
Friday, January 04, 2013
1/04/13 at 3:55 AM
Terry Cline, the state secretary of Health and Human Services, has "grave concerns" about underfunding of the Office of Juvenile Affairs - a situation that is jeopardizing public safety.
"The political will to support the agency and its mission has eroded over time," Cline said, adding that underfunding "puts the public at risk."
Funding is not adequate, and facilities are limited for housing dangerous juveniles. The public, at least in Tulsa County, seems indifferent to funding juvenile justice - witness the rejection of a $748 million Vision 2 package in November, which included $38 million for a new juvenile justice facility. The current 1968 facility is a "Dickensian dump," woefully inadequate for trying to turn around the lives of 6,000 troubled and neglected children who pass through its doors each year.
In 2011, the OJA closed the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, the state's only maximum-security lockup for youths. Most violent juveniles are now being held in other facilities, where assaults on other juveniles and staff have increased. Yet the Legislature and governor have given no indication that they would support building a replacement facility for Rader.
The juvenile system is the public's last best shot at trying to modify problem juveniles' behavior. Some will go on to be dangerous adult criminals. But many others have a chance at rehabilitation before they're released.
Oklahoma has a long, ignominious history of paying the "clean-up" costs for things it should have supported on the front end. At-capacity prisons are evidence of that.
Ignoring the needs of the juvenile justice system has major consequences. Thirty years ago the state went through a major lawsuit involving juveniles. The lessons apparently have been forgotten.
Most lawmakers run on pro-public safety platforms. Too bad they often fall off that platform after they're elected and are asked to fund pro-public safety measures. Providing adequate facilities, sufficient staff and reliable mental health and drug treatment for troubled and often violent kids isn't just for the youthful offenders - it's also for the law-abiding public.
Original Print Headline: Safety threat