Relief to the state Office of Juvenile Affairs' overcrowding situation has come one step closer in the state Legislature. Senate Bill 1889 would permit a juvenile who has been labeled a youthful offender to be kept in a county jail until a place can be found within an OJA facility.
The bill, authored by Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, and Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, passed in the House of Representatives 95-5.
"There are specific parameters for a youthful offender and certain crimes they must have committed," Blackwell said. "For 17- and 18-year-olds, this includes murder one. It's not just someone who has run a traffic light or (was) caught putting graffiti on a wall."
A youthful offender is defined as a juvenile who has committed a serious crime but has the potential to be rehabilitated. The idea is to work with the juvenile while in custody, but keep the youth away from a prison population. Most youthful offenders are juveniles who have committed violent crimes or are repeat offenders.
One of the main concerns this backlog in the system creates is the placement of serious juvenile criminals in the same room with nonviolent, more treatable juveniles. Officials at both the state and county levels have said they are stuck putting, for example, an 18-year-old gang member next to a 13-year-old shoplifter.
The bill now heads back to the Senate for a final vote. "? Scott Cooper