Fallin launches new panel to steer justice reform, Top House Democrat calls for implementation of Justice Reinvestment Initiative

OKLAHOMA CITY — Governor Mary Fallin on Wednesday (January 14), in cooperation with Republican legislative leaders, issued an executive order that establishes a special committee to help steer reforms to deal with nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems and mental health issues.

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City — a leading advocate of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) which passed with strong bipartisan support in 2012 — said the new committee is unnecessary.

Two days after declaring in her inaugural address that the state must deal with over-incarceration, Fallin formed the Oklahoma Justice Reform Steering Committee.

The six-member committee will be made up of the governor, the attorney general, the Senate president pro tempore, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the director of the state Department of Corrections and the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, or their designee’s. The governor or her designee will serve as chairman.

“According to all measures, Oklahoma has some of the highest incarceration rates in the country,” said Fallin. “Many of our inmates are non-violent 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 steering committee is assigned to:

• develop a plan for implementing justice reform measures specifically tailored to Oklahoma’s security needs and fiscal realities, and;

• prioritize objectives that would best alleviate prison overcrowding and promote public safety.

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

Fallin said during her inaugural speech Monday that many of the state’s inmates are non-violent offenders with drug abuse and alcohol problems and don’t need to be housed in prisons where they can join gangs and acquire criminal networks.

“They need treatment; they need supervision,” the governor said. “There is a smarter way to help someone who is addicted to prescription pain pills than to have them sit in a jail cell with little or no access to treatment. And for those who suffer from mental illness, we need to offer help and counseling to get them healthy and to divert them from our prison system.”

House Minority Leader Scott Inman issued the following statement about the steering committee Fallin formed.

“I applaud the Governor’s renewed focus on the issue of criminal justice reform,” said House Minority Leader Scott Inman. “However,” the Del City Democrat continued, “her appointment of an exclusively Republican panel tasked with providing a report by the end of 2016 will just make the process unnecessarily partisan and prolonged.

“An effective package, developed by a bipartisan panel of which I was a member, was proposed by former House Speaker Kris Steele. It was approved with overwhelming Democratic support and was signed by the governor herself in 2012.

“It was the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, and it would accomplish the goals that the governor laid out in her new proposal.

“Instead of studying this issue to death, House Democrats call on the governor to implement the provisions of the JRI. There is no need 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.”

NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.