Juvenile detention beds decreasing as violent crimes rise

For nearly two years, the Oklahoma County Juvenile Detention Center has been over its capacity for housing unlawful minors. It wouldn't be too tough of a decision if most of the delinquents were shoplifters or vandals. But that's not the case.

"The severity of the crimes these youthful offenders are coming in with are much more violent, much more criminal mind. That has increased significantly," said Larry Hicks, head of the Oklahoma County Juvenile Detention Center.

On the other end, the state, which should be taking some of the worst offenders, is keeping a lid on intakes because of limited bed space, as well. The lack of beds at the state level is creating situations where a 17-year-old gangbanger sits in a detention cell with a 13-year-old shoplifter.

"It's absolutely frightening," said Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. "We are at a critical point with our juvenile justice facility. It must be addressed immediately."

For the past few years, the state steadily has been losing facilities to house youthful offenders. Seven years ago, the state had more than 1,000 beds in which to place juveniles. Today, that number has been cut by a third, to less than 700, and could go down even further.

"I'm part of the cause for the backlog in (county) detention," said Robert "Gene" Christian, executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs, "because, obviously, if the bed space is unavailable on my end, they stay there in detention." "Scott Cooper

  • or