William F. O'Brien
Against the Grain
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater spoke at a luncheon at the Raindrop Turkish House in Oklahoma City last week.
Prater began his presentation by pointing out that every group he speaks to expresses concern about violent crime, and said that he believes that much of the criminal violence that occurs can be traced to the conditions that many young people grow up in. More than 25,604 people are currently incarcerated in the state of Oklahoma, and many of them have worked hard to get there, the prosecutor reported, and if they were on the streets they would be committing more crimes.
But some of them, Prater believes, could have been steered away from a life of crime if there had been people willing to give them guidance and support when they were children. Currently, 4,624 children in the state of Oklahoma have mothers who are incarcerated, and a total of 21,482 children here have fathers who are in the custody of the Department of Corrections.
Those children, the district attorney said, are likely to end up in the juvenile criminal system and eventually into the adult criminal justice system.
More than 9,131 children are currently in the foster care system administered by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, and those children are also likely to have contact with the juvenile court system.
Prater said that he was fortunate to have grown up in a loving home with two parents, and that he and his wife are seeking to provide such an environment for their children. But the children who are in foster care or have parents who are incarcerated are likely to have a home environment in which substance abuse and domestic violence are part of daily life.
Males who grow up in a home where they witness domestic violence are likely to engage in such violence themselves, and girls who grow up in such environments are likely to marry a man who abuses them, Prater said
The pattern of substance abuse repeats itself as well, and the district attorney asserts that 85 percent of the crimes that occur in Oklahoma County are tied in some way to substance abuse. Many of these young people have difficulties in school due to their stressful home environments and some of them turn to criminal youth gangs that give them a sense of security they do not get at either home or school.
The district attorney shared figures from the juvenile justice system that indicate that more than 85 percent of the juveniles who interface with it are functionally illiterate. He estimates that there are currently between 4,500 to 9,000 gang members in Oklahoma County, and that the violence between those gangs is resulting in the deaths of so many black and Hispanic males that a 25-year-old gang member is considered elderly.
The solutions to this problem, Prater asserts, include having caring adults mentor at-risk children, and adults being involved with faith-based organizations that help young people.
He also believes that more loving foster and adoptive homes are needed for those children as well.
The district attorney also spoke of how his office is currently working to provide alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders, and said that the Oklahoma County court system now has drug, mental health and veterans courts that are providing such alternatives.
The event began with Orhan Kucukosman of the Raindrop Turkish House telling the assembled guests that the people who were responsible for the death of the American diplomats in Libya were not Muslims but were in fact terrorists, and he said that he, and the organization that he is affiliated with, the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue, are dedicated to building bridges to people of other faiths.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is a retired Oklahoma City attorney.