Stillwater News Press

Our World

September 2, 2013

Prison reform sputters in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — Several years ago, legislators in both Oklahoma and North Carolina began taking steps to address rising incarceration rates.

The number of incarcerated offenders in Oklahoma had increased by a few thousand inmates in the past decade, giving the state one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the nation.

The prison population was growing at a similar pace in North Carolina, and officials were expecting an additional 10 percent increase by 2020.

Both states analyzed criminal justice data that highlighted systematic reasons, such as tougher sentencing laws, that explained why more people were being locked up. With help from the Council on State Governments in crafting legislation, each state passed a series of reforms, known as Justice Reinvestment Initiatives, designed to cut down on rising incarceration. North Carolina approved its law in 2011, Oklahoma in 2012.

The results:

Oklahoma’s prison population continued to rise, climbing by about 800 inmates to nearly 27,000. The corrections system remains overcrowded and has been forced to contract with private prisons to house more inmates. State officials say more funds are needed to relieve overcrowding.

In North Carolina, the prison population declined by about 4,000 inmates over two years, which allowed the state to close five prisons this year.

David Guice, adult corrections director of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, said the decline has saved the state about $34 million so far in 2013.

“It’s actually going great,” said Guice, referring to the state’s JRI program, of which he was an early proponent.

North Carolina was one of several states mentioned in a recent Urban Institute report that highlighted the successes of JRI programs across the country. The report outlined millions of dollars in savings for states such as South Carolina, Ohio and Texas.

Unfinished Work

Some prison and state officials have said the main reason Oklahoma has not seen results from its justice initiative that it has not fully funded or implemented the program.

For instance, the JRI bill called for the creation of intermediate sanctions facilities where parole violators could be sent as an alternative to prison. Those facilities have not yet been created; officials say they’re using current prison space for the program. However, officials were not able to say how many offenders are housed in such programs.

Another provision called for an increase in parole officers to ensure all offenders leaving prison receive some form of supervision. By early July, prison officials said only 15 parolees had received the supervision.

Former Speaker of the House Kris Steele, who worked on the justice reform initiative, said the measure has failed because Gov. Mary Fallin’s office never really supported the reforms, despite expressing public support.

The program called for more than $6 million in funding for this fiscal year, but only $3.5 million was allocated. Earlier this year, Fallin also rejected nearly $400,000 in federal funding, which partly caused Steele and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater to abruptly quit the group as co-chairmen in March.

The program called for more than $6 million in funding for this fiscal year, but only $3.5 million was allocated. About $2 million of the $3.5 million was to be awarded as public safety grants by the state Attorney General’s Office. On Wednesday, the first annual recipients of those grants were announced and include the Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lawton and Ada police departments, as well as the Oklahoma and Tulsa County Sheriff’s Offices. A news release from Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the money is targeted toward areas with high violent crime rates and will go toward staffing, technology, training and crime analysis.

Steele also pointed to efforts by the governor to replace the JRI’s original nonpartisan working committee, which spearheaded the reforms, with a legislative body. Those efforts failed, but in the process, the only group supervising the program’s implementation was basically dismantled.

Alex Weintz, press secretary for Fallin, disagreed with Steele’s assessment that the governor doesn’t support the justice initiative.

“The governor supports the goals” of the initiative, Weintz said. “We are making progress.”

However, Weintz cautioned that the measure has only been in effect since November, and measurable decreases in prison population will take time.

“I think it’s way to early to be judging this,” he said.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Our World
Must Read
Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
Ariz. Inmate Dies 2 Hours After Execution Began Crash Kills Teen Pilot Seeking World Record LeBron James Sends Apology Treat to Neighbors Raw: Funeral for Man Who Died in NYPD Custody Migrants Back in Honduras After US Deports Israeli American Reservist Torn Over Return Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan Six Indicted in StubHub Hacking Scheme Former NTSB Official: FAA Ban 'prudent' EPA Gets Hip With Kardashian Tweet Bodies of MH17 Victims Arrive in the Netherlands Biden Decries Voting Restrictions in NAACP Talk Broncos Owner Steps Down Due to Alzheimer's US, UN Push Shuttle Diplomacy in Mideast Trump: DC Hotel Will Be Among World's Best Plane Crashes in Taiwan, Dozens Feared Dead Republicans Hold a Hearing on IRS Lost Emails Raw: Mourners Gather As MH17 Bodies Transported Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-free Travel Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament
NDN Video
LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot Samsung Pre-Trolls The IPhone 6 With New Ad Jimmy Kimmel Introduces His Baby Girl Swim Daily, Nina Agdal in the Cook Islands Guilty Dog Apologizes to Baby for Stealing Her Toy Prince George Turns 1 and is Already a Trendsetter Train Collides With Semi Truck Carrying Lighter Fluid Kanye West Tells-All on Wedding in "GQ" Interview Tony Dungy Weighs in on Michael Sam Scarlett Johansson Set To Marry In August New Star Wars Episode XII X-Wing Revealed Obama: Putin must push separatists to aid MH17 probe Michigan inmates no longer allowed to wear orange due to 'OITNB'