September 21, 2010

Teen pregnancy, incarceration rates major issues for Oklahoma

Comments by Wayne Bowers: This editorial emphasizes two serious embarrassments to Oklahoma which also have a negative impact on the social structure. Oklahoma locks up more women per capita than any other state. The birth rate for girls 15 to 17 is the sixth highest in the country and the rate for girls 18-19 is now second in the nation.

This editorial gave the reason for these unfortunate figures in part due to the poverty level, which has a direct correlation to education. With so many children of incarcerated parents, a difficult time with developing high esteem occurs and a high dropout rate is a high result for teen mothers.

These are difficult facts to face and for a state, like practically every other state, facing a severe budget crisis, it gives a grim look for lawmakers when they re-convene in February 2011.

Another factor indirectly may be influencing these sad social issues, and it is one that the editorial writers of The Oklahoman have consistently criticized. That is the 2000 ft. residency law away from various places where children may be located by persons who are listed on the sex offender registry. Various studies are showing this law is ineffective and is actually harmful.

This law has banned most registrants to rural residency and in many instances, away from their families. Many have ended up homeless. A majority are not working. Many families end up on welfare due to the circumstances. Families feel shamed and shunned as much as their loved one on the registry. This is a growing problem. The impact on children in these families has a high potential for falling into the previous categories.

Fellow advocate David Hess of New York sums up this false fear very well: “All the attention given to registered sex offenders gives a distorted perception of the more likely perpetrators of sex crimes against children. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 93% of children who are victims of sexual abuse are victimized by family members or acquaintances. 94% of those arrested for the sexual molestation of children in New York State are first time offenders who are not listed on any registry. To put it another way, if a child has been the victim of sexual abuse, the odds are 4 in 1,000 that the child was victimized by a stranger who is a registered sex offender. The odds are far greater, 874 in 1,000, that the child was victimized by a family member or acquaintance that is not listed on the sex offender registry. The primary effect of sex offender registries is to give the public a false sense of security or, conversely, to raise hysteria.”

Solutions need to be presented and developed for the tragic circumstances listed in that editorial. It is just a part of the solution, but removal of the residency law can indirectly be one of those. It would also help in many other ways.
9-21-2010 Oklahoma:

AS Republican leaders huddle in the coming months to lay out their plans for Oklahoma, excited about potentially controlling all three branches of government for the first time in state history, they would do well to distribute a few news stories that made the paper last week.

One dealt with the state's high incarceration rate, and the effect that has on the children of those locked up. The other focused on the staggering number of Oklahoma teenagers — girls — who are having babies.

Serious fiscal issues await the next Legislature, and those will certainly demand the time and attention of the governor and the leaders of the House and Senate. Yet these two social issues deserve serious time and attention as well, because of the dire impact they have on the fabric of our state.

We lock up more women, per capita, than any state in the land, a dubious distinction we have held for many years. A good many of these women are mothers. In fact a University of Oklahoma professor and researcher estimated there are at least 4,500 Oklahoma kids younger than 18 who have a mother in prison. The number of children who have either a mom or dad locked up isn't known, although it stands to reason it's significant.

Linda Terrell, head of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, told a House committee that trauma, anxiety, guilt and shame are but a few of the psychological problems experienced by these children. "Incarcerating parents affects children deeply and profoundly," she said.

Some legislative work in this area has begun. House Speaker-designate Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, authored a bill last session to create a program that places nonviolent female offenders in recovery programs instead of prison. Two Democratic House members, Jabar Shumate and Jeannie McDaniel, want to form a task force to help the children of incarcerated parents. Their effort to do so last session was rejected.

The state's birthrate among 18- and 19-year-olds is now second-highest in the nation. Among girls 15 to 17 it is sixth-highest. Overall our teen birthrate of 61.5 per every 1,000 teens is fifth in the country. The national average is 42.5 per 1,000.

These figures no doubt relate in part to our state's poverty level, which is tied to education. Improve the latter and you reduce the former. Moms and dads and churches and schools must do all they can. But so must the Legislature, led by Republicans. Leaders need to shove aside ideology-driven bills that do nothing but divide, and focus instead on policies that might have a tangible, positive impact on our state.

The teen birthrate "is a direct path to high school dropouts, a direct path to unemployment and a direct path to poverty," said Sharon Rodine, director of youth initiatives for the child advocacy institute. "This is not Oklahoma's path to prosperity." ..Source.. THE OKLAHOMAN EDITORIAL

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