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Fallin taking another look at Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Aug 10, 2014 | by Lynn Powell

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative was meant to aid public safety and curb incarceration rates.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s office appears to have a renewed interest in a 2012 public safety law that largely went unimplemented because of politics and a lack of funding.

~~By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau | Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2014 12:00 am

 

Speaker Kris Steele at Press Club

OPTIMISTICKris Steele: The former House speaker, a coauthor of the bill, says he is encouraged by Gov. Fallin’s renewed interest.

 

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin’s office appears to have a renewed interest in a 2012 public safety law that largely went unimplemented because of politics and a lack of funding.

In 2012, under the leadership of then-House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, the Legislature passed and Fallin signed House Bill 3052, the highly touted Justice Reinvestment Initiative. It came after months of study and consultation with outside groups and key stakeholders. Other states have seen successes and savings under the process used by Oklahoma to develop JRI, Steele said.

The measure was designed to increase public safety and slow the rate of growth of the state’s offender population.

It required mandatory supervision for felons released from prison who were sentenced after the law took effect in 2012. It created intermediate facilities with treatment for those who violate drug court regulations or conditions of probation. The idea was to divert those who would otherwise go back to prison and serve a sentence.

Of the 288 recommendations, 58 have been sanctioned, said Terri Watkins, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

The law required mental-health and drug-risk screenings for offenders, something which is not being done in every county. It created a grant program controlled by the Attorney General’s Office for local law-enforcement agencies to reduce violent crime.

The entire program was never fully funded.

Fallin’s office recently sought assistance from a fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Adam Luck, who studied the issues and recently issued a report on how to move the program forward.

“Public support will be critical to the success of future reform efforts within the criminal justice system,” according to the report. “Much of the resistance to what some characterize as ‘soft on crime’ reforms is due to a lack of information and improper messaging.”

In the state’s application for the study, it put the past failures of JRI in part on the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, which now has a new director.

Many of the report’s recommendations aren’t new but provide suggestions for moving the project forward, such as identifying legislative leaders to back it.

The original measure was written by Steele and Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.

“I am optimistic and enthusiastic,” said Steele, who resigned from a working group overseeing the law’s implementation in disgust at the way Fallin’s office had handled implementation of the law.

He said he has spoken with Fallin and believes she is taking a second look at the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

“I am not looking back,” said Steele, who is the executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry, a nonprofit that works to break the cycle of incarceration and poverty. “The happiest person in the state of Oklahoma, if we can implement these reforms, will be me.”

“We think it has some very promising outcomes for Oklahoma, but we still don’t have a fully implemented system,” said Steve Mullins, Fallin’s general counsel. “We think there are some very good things we can do to make this better.”

The state has a long history of conducting costly audits and studies and sponsoring working groups to look at the agency and issue recommendations. However, those have failed to make any significant dent in the prison population as lawmakers continue to pass stiffer penalties for various crimes.