Every weekday morning, Larry Hicks looks at the daily rap sheet and sees a familiar theme: Too many kids, not enough beds.
As director of the Oklahoma County Juvenile Justice Center, Hicks continuously has to find ways to keep the center’s population below its maximum occupancy count of 80.
One idea that was working involved the use of monitoring devices. Instead of making some teenagers spend a few nights in detention, they were fastened with ankle bracelets, which let Hicks know where they have been spending their punishment time.
“We had it (in) place until about two years when we had to disband the program because we lost our budget,” he said. “It was very successful, but we couldn’t afford it.”
Now some funds have become available, and Oklahoma County is ready to seize on the moment and revise the program. At the Aug. 11 Board of County Commissioners meeting, the commission approved the application for acquiring the bracelets. Hicks said the money is there for the county to use.
“This was the final step in obtaining those monies,” he said. “Should get it going next month.”
The application is for a federal grant of $18,453, to be matched by $2,054 from the county, for the purchase of the ankle bracelets. Hicks said the funds should provide for about six bracelets.
“If we can just keep four or five kids out of detention, yet still feel like we are providing the public safety that we need, we can monitor their activities,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Hicks described the program as “passive monitoring,” where the center will be able to get updates on where the juvenile has been spending time.
“Active monitoring is pulling up a TV screen and seeing where they are right now,” he said. “That costs more. Ours is, we can pull up the screen and see where you were last night. If you violated the boundaries that are established, or you’ve been somewhere you were not supposed to be, we will know that. If you did, we’ve got a place we know we can keep you and give it to somebody who can honor it a little better.”
Which individuals can wear a bracelet instead of spending time in the detention center? That is up to a judge to decide. Most candidates will be kids deemed not dangerous and with the potential to get back on the right track.
“What we’re trying to do is right before we send a kid to detention to get their attention, let’s try this first,” Hicks said. “If there is a public safety issue involved, this is not considered.”
During the last fiscal year, the county issued 350 bench warrants and 137 pickup orders for juveniles on probation either missing a court date or violating the terms of their probation. “Scott Cooper | photo/Mark Hancock