Oklahoma CURE

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Oklahoma governor criticizes former prisons director

Jan 29, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

DURING a recent discussion about whether significant criminal justice reform could happen in Oklahoma in 2015, state Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said he hoped so. “I think we ought to look to Texas as a model,” Bingman said.
Yes, look to Texas. No state in America may have a more pronounced law-and-order image, and yet lawmakers there — Republican lawmakers — finally came to realize that spending more money to warehouse prisoners wasn’t the best fiscal or moral policy.

by Graham Lee Brewer Published: January 28, 2015

During a legislative forum held Wednesday at the state Capitol, Gov. Mary Fallin pointed directly to the former director of the state Corrections Department as a contributor to the state’s high incarceration rate.

Speaking about former director Justin Jones, Fallin said his reluctance to create what are often called “step-down” programs, which allow inmates to slowly move down in security levels in order to better prepare them for life after imprisonment, is one of the reasons inmates reoffend and end up back in prison.

“I worked very closely with (current) Director (Robert) Patton on conversion beds, which Justin Jones could’ve done if he had chosen to do that,” Fallin said. “I tried very hard to get the Department of Corrections under the previous director to step down the inmates, but they chose not to do that. And, that would have, by the way, saved them money if they had done that.”

Fallin said Patton is committed to the ideas established by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a sweeping criminal justice bill she signed into law in 2012, whereas Jones was not.

The initiative would have redirected many nonviolent offenders to treatment programs rather than prison, as well as have created a more robust supervised parole process for offenders. However, a dedicated funding source was never put in place, and the measure was never implemented.

Reached for comment by email Wednesday, Jones said not only did he support step down programs and the Justice Reinvestment Initiative while in office, those types of programs were never part of the initiative’s language.

“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 state will correct her political misstep as it pertains to my passion and dedication toward successful implementation of all aspects of justice reinvestment.”

Fallin said in her inaugural address earlier this month that reducing the state’s high incarceration rate through the use of drug and mental health courts and supervised parole was one of her three main goals for her final term as governor.

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