State Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, called on Governor Kevin Stitt on Thursday to reconsider the decision of the Oklahoma Board of Juvenile Affairs to reduce the number of juvenile detention center beds from six to zero at the Texas County Juvenile Detention Center located in Hooker.
According to the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the board made the decision to reduce contracted juvenile detention beds from 266 to 229 across 12 counties. The board cited that reductions were necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic, low detention usage, low admission rates and budget cuts to the agency that will begin on July 1.
Of the 14 juvenile detention centers across the state, only the centers in Texas and Beckham county were reduced to zero capacity.
“I was recently made aware of a last-minute decision by the Board of Juvenile Affairs to close the only detention center in the panhandle,” Murdock said in a letter sent to the governor. “OJA did not notify the detention center or the county commissioners about the consideration of closures or reduction in beds. The detention center, located in Hooker, services at least three other counties, and if the Woodward detention center is full, could service up to 12 counties.”
Murdock said this decision is concerning because the closure could require extensive travel for law enforcement officers across the panhandle if a juvenile transport to another county is required.
“Cimarron County, my home county, is a prime example of the strain this will cause,” Murdock said. “With only the sheriff, undersheriff and one deputy, it’s not possible to keep someone on duty 24/7. If transport to Woodward or another facility is required, this puts the safety of everyone in that county at risk. Although Texas County may not have as many admissions as other counties, consideration should be given to the distance that will have to be traveled to the nearest facility.”
Murdock also urged the governor to reexamine who is on the OJA board and diversify representation.
“I’m concerned with the complete lack of rural representation on the Board of Juvenile Affairs,” Murdock said. “Currently, all nine members of the board either live in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. The board must take into account the needs of rural Oklahoma, particularly the geographical constraints of the panhandle.”
For more information, contact:
Sen. Casey Murdock at 405-521-5626, or email Casey.Murdock@oksenate.gov.