OJA Providing Racial, Ethnic Disparity Training for Agency Staff, Law Enforcement
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) is providing racial and ethnic contact training to its staff, law enforcement and community partners to improve interaction and outcomes with youth who are minorities.
“As the juvenile justice agency for the state, it is imperative that we listen to and respond to the concerns of systematic racial and ethnic disparity,” said OJA interim Executive Director Rachel Holt. “We know that our own data shows over-representation of children of color in Oklahoma’s juvenile justice system. OJA is doing our part in addressing that through this agency-wide, system-wide, statewide training not only for our own employees, but also for law enforcement and other stakeholders.”
Holt said progress has to be made in order to mend the relationships between minority youth and the adults in their lives, and to get beyond the endemic injustice and inequality, she said.
“OJA is painfully aware of these realities,” Holt said. “We will do our part by using our work to intervene and implement change in our juvenile justice work.”
OJA provided training to several staff members who last month began training agency employees, state law officers and tribal police. About 60 agency employees, or 10%, of its OJA staff, have been trained so far.
“We wanted to deal with the circumstances that many of our young folks deal with, whether it be in the court system or their interaction with local law enforcement regarding are they impacted by a more punitive court system just because of their ethnicity,” said OJA Systems Review Coordinator Darryl Fields. “It really deals with this idea of fairness. We really want to be fair in our legal system, and to be able to have that conversation with police officers and our Juvenile Services Unit (probation and parole) staff and secure-care treatment staff, it was extremely important training.”
Ada police Capt. Jason Potter said he appreciates that law enforcement agencies across the state are involved in the training.
“It’s very important that we plug in the law enforcement community into the training,” he said.
Justin Smith, a patrolman with the Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police Department, said: “This training was very eye-opening to me, to see the actual data. This is very exciting content to bring to these smaller agencies, and I look really forward to going out and teaching and to help change the culture.”
Laura Broyles, program director of OJA’s Office of Standards for Prevention and System Improvement, said the agency is providing this evidence-based training, originally developed in Connecticut, to those who come in contact with youth in the juvenile justice system. This includes OJA staff, law enforcement and the agency’s community partners.
The training will be provided statewide, she said. The curriculum has expanded to include cultural sensitivity specific to tribes. Other information in the training will include Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are a range of negative situations a child may face or witness while growing up; trauma; and diversion options.
Holt also plans to implement an advisory council, whose members will be diverse and will include OJA youth of color. The council will advise on how to ensure all youth are represented and have a voice in identifying their needs and experiences in the juvenile justice system.