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Report: State must look outside juvenile justice system to improve it

A state policy group released a report Monday with recommendations on how to improve the juvenile justice system in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Policy Institute Policy Director Carly Putnam said at a press conference marking the release of “Better Tomorrows” that the report draws on the state’s history to explain current juvenile justice problems.

“Oklahoma is a unique state and we need to take that history into account,” said Putnam. “From the Trail of Tears, to the Osage Reign of Terror, to the destruction of Black Wall Street, we have a history of racial violence and wealth theft and little to no accountability for either.”

Putnam said Oklahoma has been traditionally harsh and averse to change. She gave a list of examples, including repeated rejection of federal funding and litigation over the treatment of justice-involved children.

“It’s not that people didn’t want to try to make the system better,” said Putnam. “There have always been people working diligently within our youth justice system.”

Putnam said the well-intentioned have been sidelined due to lack of funding, not only within the juvenile justice system but in other connected areas like health care and substance abuse treatment.

“We saw in our interviews that children know when their neighborhoods and communities have been left behind,” said Putnam.

Data from the report show youth referrals vary widely by county. In 2019, Delaware, Craig, Pontotoc, and Ellis had the highest referral rates. Beaver, Grant, Harper, and Noble had the lowest.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.