Updated youth justice campus in Tecumseh provides opportunities for Oklahoma kids (Capitol Update)

It was recently announced by the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) that the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center (COJC), located in Tecumseh, completed its American Correctional Association (ACA) audit and received a 100 percent compliance score of the 38 mandatory files and a 99.04 percent score of the 331 non-mandatory files. 

The auditors commented that the residents were exposed to many educational and career opportunities, and they received a higher standard of medical and mental health care than they would if they were not placed at COJC, according to OJA Deputy Director for Residential Placement Support Carol Ann Miller. “It’s heartening to hear the auditors’ positive remarks regarding the exceptional treatment opportunities offered to our residents,” OJA Executive Director Jeffrey Cartmell said of the audit results. 

The new co-ed campus, which was opened in June 2022, is designed to accommodate up to 144 youth. It includes a health clinic/intake center, residential cottages featuring ample natural light with high-ceiling dayrooms and a bedroom with a window for each resident. It also has an education building/gymnasium and the administration building.

In 2017, former OJA Executive Director Steven Buck persuaded legislators to authorize up to $45 million in bonds to update the facility in Tecumseh and consolidate its secure-care operations. OJA closed its facility for females in Norman and secure care operations at Southwestern Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Manitou and moved the residents to Tecumseh. 

The state previously relied more heavily on incarceration of juveniles and had multiple institutions throughout the state. COJC is now the single remaining secure treatment facility for youth who have been found guilty of what would be a crime if they were adults. It is on 40 acres of a nearly 150-acre tract in Tecumseh.

According to OJA, the campus first opened in 1907 and has gone through many transformations over the years. Previously, it was known as the Russell Industrial School, Oklahoma State Industrial School for Incorrigible Girls, the State Industrial School for White Girls, Girls Town, and the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Treatment Center. When I grew up in nearby Shawnee, it was Girls Town.

I recall vividly in the mid-1980s when DHS director Bob Fulton recommended closing the Tecumseh facility amid the severe 1980s economic downturn. As the state representative for the area, I fought to keep it open and as chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee at the time was able to prevail. I don’t know if I was right in doing so then, but I am proud now of those legislators and OJA personnel who have made it a place where kids can have their best chance to overcome their troubled past.


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.

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