juvenile justice

Jacob McCleland / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

Twenty-nineteen means a new governor for Oklahoma and a fresh class of state legislators — nearly 40 percent of whom have zero political experience. It’s a new year, but the state government’s slate hasn’t been wiped clean.

Here’s a roundup of some of the biggest policy issues on deck for the upcoming year and legislative session.

Energy & Environment

The estate of a 16-year-old boy who committed suicide in a Muskogee juvenile detention center has filed a lawsuit against multiple government agencies and employees arguing the boy’s life could have “easily” been saved if staff had done their jobs.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

State Senators sent Gov. Mary Fallin new standards for sentencing teens to life without parole Wednesday.

The standards were requested by state district attorneys and are a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ban on mandatory life without parole sentences for teens.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Tucker McGee is in prison for murdering teenager JaRay Wilson. McGee was days away from turning 18. Now, more than five years after the murder, Legislators and district attorneys fear his sentence of life in prison without parole is on the verge of being reduced.

State courts are twice as likely to incarcerate Native teens for minor crimes such as truancy and alcohol use than any other racial and ethnic group, according to the Tribal Law and Policy Institute. And juvenile detention facilities around the country have a disproportionately high number of Native American youth, according to an Indian Law and Order Commission report.

Across the country, there are efforts to close outdated and dangerous juvenile detention centers. But even in places with so-called model juvenile halls, counties often struggle to meet the minimum standards.

A juvenile hall in San Leandro, Calif., is one such detention center that's generally well-regarded but faces some major challenges. Built in 2007, it's part of a $176 million juvenile justice complex with a detention facility, courtrooms and law offices.

Juvenile justice reformers have tried for years to figure out what works to help rehabilitate youth in trouble, and a recent shift away from locking kids up has been at the forefront of reform efforts. One of the most common alternatives to incarceration is to order kids directly into probation, instead of juvenile hall.

But the goals of these alternative approaches don't always match the reality — and disproportionately impact youth of color.