The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs, the state's juvenile justice agency, has launched a training program for its staff and outside law enforcement agencies to "improve interaction and outcomes with youth who are minorities."
"We know that our own data shows over-representation of children of color in Oklahoma's juvenile justice system," said the agency's interim executive director, Rachel Holt, in a press release.
"Progress has to be made in order to mend the relationships between minority youth and the adults in their lives, and to get beyond the endemic injustice and inequality," the release continues.
On a recent OJA board meeting held virtually, Darryl Fields, the agency's systems review coordinator, said the training is needed.
"We wanted to deal with the circumstances that many of our young folks deal with, whether it be in the court system or their interaction with local law enforcement regarding, are they impacted by a more punitive court system just because of their ethnicity," Fields said.
Ada Police Capt. Jason Potter told the OJA board that the training was practically useful for him as an officer.
"I am not a minority, and I've never had this situation explained to me in a way that made sense to me" before the training, Potter said.
Potter said it may be difficult to get law enforcement universally onboard with training concerning racial inequities, sharing that a colleague of his passed on the opportunity to participate.
"It wasn't that he didn't have the buy-in. He understood this was an issue. He didn't have the passion for it," Potter said.
"Without the passion, it's going to be difficult for us to get out into the law enforcement community."
OJA said that so far about 60 employees, roughly 10% of their staff, have undergone the training.
According to data provided by OJA, between July 31st, 2019, and June 30th, 2020, Black youth were arrested at nearly three times the rate of their white counterparts, and Native youth were arrested at 1.78 times the rate of white youth.