On Sunday, January 24, members of the VOICE OKC (Voices Organized in Civic Engagement) hosted a Restorative Justice Sunday presentation. The program titled “Public Safety at Risk: Fines and Fees and the Oklahoma Criminal Justice System” was St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 5700 N Kelley in Oklahoma City.
The VOICE Restorative Justice Action Team shared with members and the public what they have learned about fines and fees imposed on those incarcerated, and how an over-reliance on them not only affects former inmates and their families, but also how it negatively impacts the community’s public safety.
VOICE members also discussed how they intend to address some of these issues this year, and ways that people can join them in this work.
"Debt from court, serving time, and probation requirements is a big problem in our state and city," said Pastor Theodis Manning, co-chair of VOICE's Restorative Justice Action Team. "I've seen it in my own ministry. Too many people come out wanting to change their lives for the good, but face tremendous challenges. We want to remove barriers to being productive citizens, rather than make it harder for them."
Over 20 congregations in Oklahoma City metro area supported Restorative Justice Sunday with morning services emphasizing criminal justice reform as central to a healthy city.
Speakers and participants included the Rev. Dr. James A. Dorn, Senior Pastor Mt. Triumph Baptist Church of Oklahoma City; Clinton Johnson, of St. John's Missionary Baptist Church; Heather Sparks, Oklahoma Education Association member: Dan Short, founder and executive director of Mustard Seed Development Corp; and others.
"We believe that in order to have a thriving state, with healthy cities and communities, we need to be smarter both in our laws and financially in how we operate and pay for public safety," declared Sundra Flansburg, the other co-chair of VOICE's Restorative Justice Team. "The present system is both chaotic and in many way, ineffective.”
Following the presentation, VOICE members proposed steps that congregations can take to make changes in the legislative session, which begins Monday (February 1). Flansburg said the event was held following Martin Luther King Day, “in part in order to honor the ongoing legacy of Dr. King. We believe that our efforts in this area are very much in keeping with his work.”
In related state news, former Speaker of the House Kris Steele, an ordained Methodist minister, unveiled a large statewide coalition focused on criminal justice reforms at a Capitol Blue Room press conference last week.
is a coalition of congregations, unions, associations, schools and non-profit groups that come together to understand the pressures faced by individuals and families in the Oklahoma City community and to work effectively within the democratic process to address those pressures.