Two bills reforming parts of Oklahoma’s juvenile justice system won approval by the full Senate on Wednesday. Sen. AJ Griffin is the author of Senate Bills 1200 and 1233. She said the measures are part of a comprehensive juvenile justice reform effort based on the findings and recommendations of a two-year task force.
SB 1200 closes a loophole that allows minors to be locked up, often for months at a time, for “status” offenses such as truancy, possessing tobacco, being disruptive or running away—offenses that only apply to those under the age of 18. Griffin explained it’s a violation of federal law to lock up a child or teen for a status offense, but Oklahoma has a loophole that can result in a truant teen being sent to a juvenile facility for weeks or even months.
“Here’s the loophole—a juvenile goes before a judge and is ordered to attend school. When they don’t, the judge can send that youth to a juvenile facility for violating that order. That means this boy or girl is locked up with minors who are there for far more serious crimes,” said Griffin, R-Guthrie. “When a child is locked up for skipping school, not only are they not in class, once they are released, they’re more likely to commit more serious offenses. It is far less costly and more beneficial to the minor, the family and the community to utilize intervention services that actually address the behavior before it leads to something worse.”
The second measure, SB 1233, extends the amount of time a youthful offender can remain in a juvenile detention center. Oklahoma’s Youthful Offender Act allows for rehabilitative treatment for teens between the ages of 13 and 17 who commit serious crimes. The treatment program lasts 20 months. Under current law, they can remain in the facility only until they are 18 and five months of age.
“That means if they begin a treatment program at 17, they’ll only be about halfway through before they age out. Completing the program can greatly reduce their chances of staying out of trouble, but making them leave before then sets them up for failure,” Griffin said. “By raising the age limit to 19, we have a better shot at turning their lives around, and we reduce the chances they will end up in an adult prison.”
Both bills now move to the House of Representatives for further consideration.