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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) received a presentation by a task force on juvenile detention center practices Monday.

The BoCC retained private counsel for Jail detention officers being sued for the death of a detainee in the Jail. 

In addition to other business, they also authorized School Resource Officers (SROs) for two school districts in the county and disposed of surplus land.

Juvenile Task Force

The Teach for America juvenile Task Force attended Monday’s meeting to present their findings and recommendations to the Commissioners. The Task Force spent time researching and conducting interviews regarding Oklahoma’s practices surrounding incarceration and treatment of youthful offenders (YO).

The Task Force, composed of eight current and former educators, made a number of recommendations regarding juvenile practices.

The first set of recommendations were specifically geared toward keeping young people out of incarceration entirely. The group said that community-based alternatives to sentencing show a much lower rate of recidivism among YOs than incarceration.

The group also focused on trauma-informed care training. While most agencies, organizations, and service providers for juveniles in the criminal legal system have trauma-informed training available, many do not require those trainings. 

Oklahoma County Courthouse
The east side of the Oklahoma County Courthouse, August 2020. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

This Task Force would like to see that change. Additionally, the task Force calls for judges and attorneys working in the juvenile system to receive trauma-informed care training.

A deficit in care that the Task Force raised was the lack of counseling resources for YOs in Oklahoma County. The County’s Juvenile Bureau currently has one licensed professional counselor dedicated to the Juvenile Detention Center. With a revolving caseload of upwards of forty young clients, more counselors should be made a priority.

Oklahoma holds the sad distinction of leading the country in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scores. With so many young people experiencing trauma and then ending up in the care of our county legal system, more mental health resources are a dire need.

During the course of their work, the Task Force members were not able to interview any juveniles who were incarcerated.

Private Counsel

Three agreements were approved between the BoCC and the private law firm of Gary J. James for legal representation of individuals named in ongoing litigation against Oklahoma County, the Jail, and several individuals.

Detention officers Jonathan Johnson and James Newkirk are listed as defendants in the case styled Willis vs Oklahoma County Detention Center et al, wherein the estate of a man who died in Jail custody claims his civil rights were violated by the Jail, the County, and these detention officers who were present when Mr. Willis died.

Brian Harrison is listed as a defendant in the case styled Chrisman vs Board of County Commissioners of Oklahoma County et al. That case similarly names the County, the Jail, and detention officers who were present at the time of the death in custody of Mr. Chrisman.

Each of the agreements are for an amount not to exceed $125,000.00.

Surplus Land

Four plots of land in District 3, north of the District work barn, were declared surplus previously. At Monday’s meeting of the BoCC, bids for those properties were received and awarded.

Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that builds houses for people with low incomes or other barriers, won the bid on three of the lots. A private citizen won the bid on the fourth.

Another property in the Town of Luther was formally declared surplus at Monday’s meeting. The Board voted in favor of the declaration and to execute a Quit Claim Deed to the Town of Luther to take ownership of the property. That land, originally acquired by the county in 1925, will now belong to Luther. Luther’s City Park will be enhanced with the new property.

Sheriff’s Business

The Sheriff’s Office brought several items to the agenda, mostly concerning renewals and grant awards.

One item, however, was cause for some slight surprise. Deer Creek Public Schools requested to lower the number of School Resource Officers for this school year. Instead of four, as in past years, the new agreement is for only three SROs, with the option to add another if the new superintendent deems it necessary.

The Board also approved one SRO for Star Spencer.

Executive Session

One item discussed behind closed doors during Executive Session concerned a potential claim to be brought by the County against the State. The State of Oklahoma and the Office of Juvenile Affairs have a statutory obligation to pay a portion of the costs of operating the juvenile detention facility.

After returning from Executive Session, District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey made a motion that a demand letter be drafted and sent to the appropriate office of the State.

The next meeting of the Board of County Commissioners will be on Monday, August 2 at 9:00 a.m.

Last Updated July 19, 2021, 1:01 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor