POSTED ON JANUARY 18, 2012:
Quashing Our "Graduate" Crime Program
Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau needs help developing "degree program" for troubled kids
Some days ago, I re-watched the film Clockers, the little seen, but epic '95 Spike Lee thriller/Bildungsroman. In the movie, Mekhi Phifer in his first role, plays a juvenile drug "mule:" a kid who executes the "sales" and pathological logistical instructions of a powerful adult drug lord channeled by the great character actor Delroy Lindo.
The film also benefits enormously from star performances by Harvey Keitel and John Turturro as homicide detectives who are after drug lord/Lindo. Keital and Turturro soon decide that they can best get to the big bad guy via his kid mule Phifer.
The movie was especially meaningful to me in '95, because I was then the planning and technology officer for a boutique architectural firm here in town: we were completing pre-architectural/conceptual work for a giant new jail, later called the David L. Moss Correctional Center in downtown Tulsa.
At the time, I was having mixed feelings about the project because the whole idea of jails and continuing to incarcerate folks in large numbers, something Oklahoma is renowned for was, I thought, bummer policy. But my friends at the firm and some buddies in the civil liberties community convinced me that innocent people -- which is what people are when they first arrive at jail -- deserve to be in a decent space while awaiting adjudication. Being in a hellhole, and not having been found guilty of anything, is a grave injustice. So, I reconciled myself to the project.
Coincidently, 1995 was also the year when John DiLulio of Princeton and James Fox of Northeastern University, two high profile criminologists, were writing, big time, about how we were about to experience a convulsive spike in crime at the hands of a cadre of kids they called juvenile "super predators". And like the drug "mule" in Lee's Clockers film, our continuing "Drug War" policies would fuel these little monsters and their assault on society.
Fortunately, "super-predator" kids, or at least the number of these kids anticipated by DiLulio and Fox, never materialized.
Kids & "Portals"
Our society is a kind of soft machine with lots of portals where people can enter and depart from critical rights of passage. Oklahoma kids who get entangled in the criminal justice machine "portal" are time bombs: and they go off absent the sort of intensive interventions, stout counseling, diversionary efforts and second chance offerings managed by the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau and its allies in Tulsa's mental health and social service community. The facility where kid offenders in Tulsa County are taken is a place that has been around since 1969 -- a long time ago in the facility, social and practical universe.
What we have at the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau (TJB) is what Tulsa World writer/editor Julie Delacour once called "juvenile justice in a sardine can". From a moral, strategic and programmatic standpoint, keeping kids and TJB's staff in an intensely overcrowded and increasingly dysfunctional facility is morally repellent and fiscally problematic.
Chief Juvenile Court Judge Doris Francine, Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith and her two colleagues on the Tulsa County Commission are doing a fantastic job of maintaining the existing TJB facility while they try to find a site and a fiscal path to a new one. When the juvenile system fails a kid, every taxpayer in Tulsa County has to pay for ultra expensive correctional facilities and long-run probationary efforts. We also lose tax revenues and experience vastly lowered employment productivity horizons from kids entangled by the criminal justice system.
Tulsa Juvenile Bureau is doing a hard job in a very poor facility with outsized operating costs: costs that stem almost entirely from outsized facility maintenance and monster transportation costs -- transposrtation expenses that come from taking kids to and from the County Courthouse, from the jail and from the TJB space.
The Site & Design Challenge
Part of the road ahead for the Juvenile Bureau, its staff and the cadre of political folks who oversee it, is a lean and very carefully designed new facility. Hopefully the facility can be sited not far from the David Moss (Adult) Jail and the courts -- quashing the current outsized transport outlays.
Placing a special community or juvenile services facility of any kind in Tulsa is, as some readers may appreciate, an exceedingly daunting proposition. These facilities are perceived to be "radioactive" and not what any neighborhood wants to have down the road or across the street. But it looks as though our County Commissioners, Judge Francine and the administrators of current facility are up to the task. Already, they have contracted with a local architectural firm and an inventive, highly experienced national scope design team that specializes in game-changing juvenile facilities.
A big challenge will be to make sure that the new facility is extremely energy-efficient and has other operational, sustainable features that can actually lower the outsized costs the county is experiencing. Operating expenses are the bane of criminal justice programs in Tulsa and elsewhere. Minimizing these expenses using integrated energy conservation, passive solar, ubiquitous automation, inventive circulation and intelligent logistics have peerless power when marshaled properly. In my prep for this article, I confirmed something I had been told earlier: Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith is an agile and very forceful advocate for these strategies and needs to be listened to very carefully.
We -- and I mean the public -- are enablers for TJB's passionate but highly compromised effort to do world class juvenile diversion and justice efforts: TJB is the principal public avenue for intervening in the lives of children, who absent a firm hand, an outsized "time out" and strong counseling will make a direct dissent into the criminal world.
Tulsans should plan on helping to forestall the conveyor belt that converts juvenile offenders into master criminals and help a big passel of kids and their parents in the bargain.
When asked to commit to TJB's new path, Tulsans should signup -- and soon.
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