Tag Archive for Senate Bill 247

Is Oklahoma Slipping Back Into Its Old Ways?

Seal of OklahomaThe Oklahoma Legislature approved House Bill 2028 in 2009. This bill allows the use of pepper spray and electromagnetic shock devices in juvenile detention centers. It was signed into law. The office of juvenile affairs, which requested the bill in the first place, has not yet changed its own rules to allow these measures. Rumor has it that might change soon.

This year that same body approved Senate Bill 247. This bill allows  maximum security spaces to be added to existing juvenile detention centers. It was also signed into law last May.

Why the sudden embrace of such extreme measures?

Multiple violent incidents at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Detention Center in Tecumseh are commonly cited as the cause. One juvenile suffered a brain injury after being beaten in one incident, while in another local law enforcement had to be brought in to preserve order following a violent incident involving multiple juveniles.

The recent outbreak came after the closure of the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs the state’s only maximum-security juvenile facility. The youths incarcerated there were transferred

Office of Juvenile Affairs closed the state’s only maximum-security juvenile facility, the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, and transferred some of the youths from there to the state’s two other juvenile institutions.

Tulsa attorney Steven Novick does not think this reaction is justified. This is worth mentioning because Novick is the attorney who spearheaded the 1978 federal lawsuit that began a series of sweeping reforms to the juvenile system.
The suit was filed on behalf of a boy, under the pseudonym of Terry D.,  who described conditions that often included  the use of hogties and days of solitary confinement. After touring one of the facilities Novik deemed the stories well founded.  Barbara Hoberock comments on this in her recent article in Tulsa World:
He said the staff was proud of what it had been doing, adding that staff members were ‘every bit as institutionalized as the kids were. They didn’t see what they were doing as possibly wrong or harmful. That was the springboard.’
The allegations mounted, Novick said, and the suit alleged that children were subjected to abusive use of restraints and solitary confinement and that staff used tranquilizing drugs to control juveniles, rather than treat them.
‘There was compelling evidence to support all those allegations,’ he said. In addition, children who had done nothing wrong – such as victims of neglect – were housed with those who had been adjudicated of crimes, Novick said.

The lawsuit was an arduous battle, leading to a consent decree in 1984 that banned abusive practices and closed many juvenile detention facilities. The case finally reached it’s conclusion in the late 1990s with an order of dismissal outlining guidelines for treatment.

Since the dismissal order Novik believes the system has started moving toward more of a corrections model than a true juvenile justice system. The current bills which would allow pepper spray, tazers, and maximum security spaces would seem to bear that out.

Of course supporters have a different view. House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, is reported in the Bixby Bulletin as saying:

‘In the grand scheme of things, the proposals before the agency’s board are band-aids to a larger problem,’ Steele said. ‘Eventually, the state needs to address how to create proper space and methods to handle high-risk juvenile offenders. Until that happens, we’ve got to do the best we can with what we have, and I thank the agency, its board members and my fellow legislators for working to do exactly that.’

Hoberock’s article supplies the needed riposte:

Linda Terrell, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, is concerned that the proposals offered by OJA are more punitive.

‘We need to remember that they are children,’ she said.

Well said, Ms. Terrell, well said. All you need to do is look through our blog posts to see ample evidence that this incarceration based model is more expensive, less effective, and more dangerous than rehabilitation programs that focus on getting the youth integrated back into society.

Oklahoma is clearly taking steps in the other direction.