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Tulsa World Editorial: Let's move Justice Reinvestment Initiative forward

Aug 12, 2014 | by Lynn Powell

Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 12:00 am

After years of waiting, it appears the Justice Reinvestment Initiative — the state’s best hope for reducing its prison population and crime — may be moving forward.

Nearly two dozen states, including Oklahoma, have adopted the JRI model over the past 10 years.

The program emphasizes locking up the prisoners we are scared of, and finding alternatives to incarceration for the others. That means substance-abuse treatment and diversion programs that work and return people to productive society. JRI also emphasizes better assessment of people coming into the criminal justice system and more and better transitional supervision for people coming out of prison.

In other states the formula has worked, producing dramatic reductions in incarceration costs for nonviolent offenders and less recidivism for former nonviolent lawbreakers. Texas and North Carolina actually closed prisons.

Nationally, conservatives, including former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, heartily endorsed the JRI concept because of its fiscal good sense and value to public safety,

But, in Oklahoma, the program has been caught on high center.

After the program’s instigator — former Speaker of the House Kris Steele — left office, it lost momentum. The state didn’t fund all the graduated steps, the governor’s office turned down federal money for law enforcement training.

Thus, Oklahoma is looking for more space to house its 27,000 inmates, and the Department of Corrections continues to be one of the fastest growing state agencies. This pattern cannot continue indefinitely. The cost is too great.

It appears that Gov. Mary Fallin recognizes that. Harvard University graduate fellow Adam Luck, a Broken Arrow native, has spent months, under the auspices of the governor’s office, reconsidering JRI and recommending ways to get the initiative back on track.

It’s not a done deal, but it’s a promising development, and we encourage it enthusiastically.

We hope Fallin recognizes that JRI has the potential for being a truly landmark achievement — a historic legacy. She could do what no governor before her has done — slow this state’s prison growth and keep the public safe at the same time.

We applaud Fallin for reconsidering JRI and urge her to move forward.

 

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