Office of Juvenile Affairs puts Oklahoma County on notice

Officials at the state and county levels are well aware of the overcrowding problem with the juvenile justice system. But when the state Office of Juvenile Affairs sent a letter to the Oklahoma County commissioners placing the Juvenile Justice Center on a provisional license, the problem intensified.

On April 29, OJA told the county it must do something to ease the over-the-limit juvenile inmate population or the state would revoke the detention center's license. It placed the center on a provisional license starting May 1 that lasts 90 days. If the problem still exists thereafter, the state may revoke the license and remove some of the juveniles.

"We've been dealing with this since 1999, and we were never given a provision license because of overcrowding," said Larry Hicks, director of the Oklahoma County Juvenile Justice Center. "For just the fact of being overcrowded, to give us the provision license is probably a little out of the ordinary."

The detention center has enough beds to house 80 juveniles, but has consistently been overflowing with more than 90 and upward of 100 juveniles in the center on a daily basis.

According to the letter, OJA has conducted annual assessments of the center since 2005. Each time, it found the center in violation of population standards.

Gene Christian, executive director of the Oklahoma Juvenile Authority, said revoking the county's license would be a long and negotiated process and would be avoided as long as the county was making progress toward reducing the center's population.

"There is something much larger than the county," Hicks said. "The whole system in Oklahoma needs to be reviewed. Being the largest county, we are going to be the focal point, but that doesn't mean there are not problems throughout the state. We're just the first." "Scott Cooper

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