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Department of Corrections funding hike expected for Gov. Mary Fallin's proposed budget

Jan 31, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to propose increased funding for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections on Monday.

Fallin will give her fifth state-of-the-state address to a joint session of the Legislature assembled in the House chamber. She will also release her executive budget, which is a recommendation for lawmakers.

A portion of the DOC money will be used to fund the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, said her spokesman, Alex Weintz. The JRI, House Bill 3052, was passed by the Legislature and signed by Fallin in 2012.It was touted as a way to increase public safety and curb the state’s growing prison population after numerous studies and audits of the DOC, which is currently operating at 116 percent of inmate capacity. Key provisions of the law have never been fully funded in Fallin’s executive budgets or by lawmakers.

By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau | Posted: Friday, January 30, 2015 5:30 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to propose increased funding for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections on Monday.

Fallin will give her fifth state-of-the-state address to a joint session of the Legislature assembled in the House chamber. She will also release her executive budget, which is a recommendation for lawmakers.

A portion of the DOC money will be used to fund the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, said her spokesman, Alex Weintz.

The JRI, House Bill 3052, was passed by the Legislature and signed by Fallin in 2012.

It was touted as a way to increase public safety and curb the state’s growing prison population after numerous studies and audits of the DOC, which is currently operating at 116 percent of inmate capacity.

Key provisions of the law have never been fully funded in Fallin’s executive budgets or by lawmakers.

The law included intermediate revocation facilities where those who violate drug-court rules or probation and parole conditions are held and given treatment instead of being sent to prison, which is a more costly alternative.

The Department of Corrections has selected some beds at various facilities for such purposes. According to the agency, 98 people have been sentenced to the intermediate revocation beds.

The JRI also required mandatory supervision of felons discharging their sentences. Fulfilling the requirement would involve adding money for probation and parole officers, something that has not been done.

During a legislative forum Wednesday, Fallin was asked why the measure was not implemented two years ago.

“Well, there are some portions of the JRI that I wanted implemented, but I have to have cooperation on that,” she said. “Cooperation would be from the DOC with the previous director, who did not implement portions of it I thought he should, such as stepping down inmates. I felt that was an important part of JRI.”

Step-down beds refer to moving offenders from prisons into halfway houses as they near discharge. But step-down beds were not part of JRI.

Fallin was referring to Justin Jones, who was Department of Corrections director until August 2013.

Jones fired back at the governor’s statement.

“It is unfortunate that the governor of Oklahoma feels the need to create a patsy for her lack of knowledge on Justice Reinvestment and her failure to support it,” Jones said. “A step-down program was not part of Justice Reinvestment and was never discussed.

“A fact check of her comments with those that worked on it both in state and from those stakeholders out of sate will correct her political misstep as it pertains to my passion and dedication toward successful implementation of all aspects of Justice Reinvestment.”

When asked for clarification, Weintz said Fallin was referring to “smart on crime” initiatives, of which JRI is a part.

Former House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, was the main backer of JRI and spent years studying the issue. He is now executive director of the Education and Employment Ministry.

“My experience is Director Jones was consistently and sincerely supportive of JRI,” Steele said.

Steele said JRI did not address step-down beds.

“I think there was perhaps a difference in philosophy concerning other elements of corrections reform between the governor and Director Jones,” Steele said.

He commended Fallin for pursuing corrections reform, saying it is needed.

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