OJA allocates gang-prevention funds, Frederick center left out

Thursday, June 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ State Office of Juvenile Affairs officials would like to revisit next year a decision to stop funding for a gang prevention program in southwestern Oklahoma.

When the Board of Juvenile Affairs met Wednesday to consider how to spend $1.4 million in gang-prevention money, the Kennedy Youth Center for at-risk youth in Frederick was left out.

``More than likely, we'll have to shut our doors next week,'' said Brent Morey, executive director of the Community Action Development Corporation, which runs the youth center.

``I'm just astounded they'd completely de-fund us. We've had nothing but good reviews.''

Rhonda Burgess, a spokeswoman for the Office of Juvenile Affairs, said the cut shows what kind of effect a reduction in state funding has had on her agency.

``With the devastating budget cuts OJA is experiencing, we had to cut another program,'' Burgess said. ``We'd like to revisit funding for the Kennedy program again next year.''

The Legislature originally allocated $1.4 million to a contract with the Oklahoma Association of Youth Services for juvenile tracking programs.

Gov. Brad Henry vetoed that provision, insisting the money be used at the agency's discretion, preferably for gang-prevention programs.

At Wednesday's meeting, board members approved using about $1.2 million of the money for gang-prevention programs and $204,000 for tracking systems.

While Henry's veto and Wednesday's board vote preserved the state's gang-prevention efforts, not enough money was left over to fund all the programs used last year.

Kennedy Youth Center received $42,500 last year, Morey said. The state has provided funding for the program for the past seven years.

The program helps about 500 children a year, Morey said.

Seven other gang-prevention programs will remain. They serve areas in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lawton and Muskogee.

Morey said his program was the only rural gang prevention effort of its kind in the state.

``There are a lot of rural kids who need these programs,'' he said. ``It seems like a real injustice to me.''

The $204,000 allocated for tracking is way down from $3.2 million received for tracking and mentoring last year. The mentoring program was eliminated.

Tracking programs help the agency keep tabs on juveniles under its care.

Board member Bob Ravitz warned that the agency will run out of money for tracking programs within a few months unless it gets more money.