Juvenile justice, child welfare, suicide get attention (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Dealing with continuing social issues has been front and center at the Capitol of late.  Juvenile justice, child welfare and suicide prevention received attention.  The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Brian Crain, heard a couple of interim studies dealing with juvenile justice. 

The first, requested by Sen. A.J. Griffin, looked into the possibility of passing legislation next year requiring courts to consider the competency of a juvenile to stand trial in a delinquency proceeding.  A delinquent act is an act that would be a crime if the young person were an adult.  The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals held several years ago that a juvenile charged with delinquency must go to trial without the court considering whether he or she is able to understand the proceedings and aid in his or her defense.  The court reasoned that the end result of delinquency adjudication is “treatment” rather than “punishment” so the rights involved in an adult criminal proceeding do not apply.  It turns out that Oklahoma is the only state in the nation that denies a juvenile the right to raise the competency issue before trial.

The other interim study the committee considered was a review of how the Office of Juvenile Affairs deals with children who are out of the custody of their parents.  This included children in Youth Services shelters and in OJA group homes and secure institutions.  It seemed to me the OJA representatives answered the committee’s questions satisfactorily and, given the resources available demonstrated they were doing about as well as they could. 

On another front, DHS announced a new approach to help prevent kids from being removed from their homes.  Incredibly Oklahoma has experienced a 40 percent increase in removal of children in the past three years, mostly for neglect rather than physical or sexual abuse.   Oklahoma DHS has received approval from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to use existing funds intended for kids in foster care to provide services in the child’s home in hopes the parents can care for the children so they won’t have to be removed.  DHS also received a federal grant to help create inventive ways to recruit families for hard-to-place children.  Many of these kids age out of the foster care system without ever having received a permanent home either because of special needs, age or being part of a large sibling group. 

 Finally, in another unflattering statistic, Oklahoma is 7th nationally in suicides.  The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services announced receipt of a National Strategy for Suicide Prevention grant that was one of only four awarded nationally.  It’s aimed at preventing suicide and suicide attempts among working-age adults from ages 25 to 64.  The funding will be used for training of mental health and primary care professionals and screening of individuals in mental health and primary care facilities to identify and help people who might be at risk for suicide.  

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Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

One thought on “Juvenile justice, child welfare, suicide get attention (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

  1. Agree with Speaker Lewis. Treatment, Treatment, Treatment for all the above humans. Punishment just adds anger as icing on top of the social problems!

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