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Oklahoma again will look at reducing incarceration rates

Jan 16, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

The state once again is looking at reducing its inmate population, but a newly formed committee could take nearly two years to come up with solutions.Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday announced the creation of a six-member panel to develop justice reform measures. The action comes after a highly touted 2012 public safety law, signed by Fallin, went largely unimplemented due to politics and money. It was pushed by then-House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. The measure was House Bill 3052, dubbed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative The committee created by Fallin’s executive order will be made up of the governor; attorney general; Senate pro tem; House speaker; Department of Corrections director; commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; or their designees. Fallin or her designee will serve as chair.

By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau | Posted: Thursday, January 15, 2015 12:00 am

OKLAHOMA CITY — The state once again is looking at reducing its inmate population, but a newly formed committee could take nearly two years to come up with solutions.

Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday announced the creation of a six-member panel to develop justice reform measures.

The action comes after a highly touted 2012 public safety law, signed by Fallin, went largely unimplemented due to politics and money. It was pushed by then-House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. The measure was House Bill 3052, dubbed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

The committee created by Fallin’s executive order will be made up of the governor; attorney general; Senate pro tem; House speaker; Department of Corrections director; commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; or their designees. Fallin or her designee will serve as chair.

“According to all measures, Oklahoma has some of the highest incarceration rates in the country,” Fallin said. “Many of our inmates are nonviolent offenders with drug abuse and alcohol problems who need treatment.

“Offering treatment can help them return to their communities as sober, healthy adults ready to support themselves and their families. This will reduce poverty, keep families together and help people with mental health and substance abuse problems get their lives back on track.”

The committee is expected to present its findings to Fallin and legislative leaders by Dec. 31, 2016.

Alex Weintz, a Fallin spokesman, said the panel will take a look at JRI as part its study. He said Fallin has always supported that law.

The panel will study ways to divert nonviolent offenders with substance abuse or mental health problems away from prison and into treatment, counseling and supervision, Weintz said.

The correctional system’s capacity is at 116 percent.

Sean Wallace, Oklahoma Corrections Professionals executive director, said he was encouraged by the announcement.

“We need leadership on this issue to make it happen and having Speaker (Jeff) Hickman (R-Fairview) calling for change and Fallin now also calling for change, I feel better that it might actually happen,” Wallace said.

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, worked to secure passage of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which was the product of months of study and consultation with outside groups and key stakeholders. It was designed to increase public safety and slow the growth of the offender population.

“Instead of studying this issue to death, House Democrats call on the governor to implement the provisions of the JRI,” Inman said. “There is no reason to kick the can down the road for two more years. State correctional officers, the state Corrections Department, and the general public cannot wait another two years to see this matter resolved.”

He said implementing JRI would accomplish the goals Fallin is seeking.

Weintz said the panel will be working on recommendations before the final report is issued.

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