Report: Juvenile crime plummets in Oklahoma, but racial and local disparities remain

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jessica Vazquez,, (918) 794-3944

TULSA, Okla. (Sep. 11, 2019) — Rates of serious violent and property crimes by youth have fallen dramatically over the past three decades, according to a report released today by Open Justice Oklahoma, a program of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. The report calls attention to a longstanding but little-discussed bright spot in our state’s justice system and urges state leaders to continue its progress to reduce juvenile incarceration with an emphasis on reducing racial disparities.

Since 1990, arrests of youth for violent felonies have fallen by 70 percent and property felonies by 86 percent. The number of Oklahoma youth incarcerated has also declined significantly, falling from a total of 757 in 1999 to 270 in 2018. This reduced juvenile incarceration saves the state of Oklahoma about $45 million per year. 

These declines have occurred as Oklahoma youth became more racially diverse. The share of Oklahoma’s youth age 10-17 that are Hispanic, Black, Asian, or Native American grew from 25 percent in 1990 to 43 percent today.

“These encouraging trends in juvenile justice have received little attention in Oklahoma,” said Ryan Gentzler, Director of Open Justice Oklahoma. “Fewer justice-involved youth is likely to lead to lower adult crime rates, which will help to reduce Oklahoma’s adult prison population as well.”

Nonetheless, there are deep racial disparities in arrests and incarcerations of youth. Black youth are three times more likely to be arrested than White youth, while Native American youth who are arrested are two and a half times more likely to be incarcerated than White youth who are arrested. These disparities are not explained by differences in criminal behavior.

Additionally, there are concerning disparities in arrests among counties in Oklahoma. Youth are arrested in Kay County at a rate five times higher than the state average, and arrest rates in Carter and Pottawatomie Counties are much higher than similarly situated counties.

The report is available here:

Open Justice Oklahoma is a program of the Oklahoma Policy Institute that seeks to illuminate our justice system through analysis of public data.

Questions about the report can be directed to Ryan Gentzler, Director of Open Justice Oklahoma, at (918) 519-3487 or


Oklahoma Policy Insititute (OK Policy) advances equitable and fiscally responsible policies that expand opportunity for all Oklahomans through non-partisan research, analysis, and advocacy.

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