Oklahoma Attorney General’s Chief of Staff unresponsive to written question on state programs for non-violent offenders

OKLAHOMA CITY – Melissa McLawhorn Houston, chief of staff and assistant attorney general for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has declined to provide a requested written response to CapitolBeatOK’s question concerning alternatives to incarceration and programs for diversion of non-violent offenders in the state’s criminal justice system.

Houston, through Pruitt’s communications director, did answer (in writing, as requested) other questions, emphasizing in her answers a focus on violent crime. Houston also told CapitolBeatOK the attorney general’s office is requesting $4 million to finance grant programs, $2 million more than planned previously. 

Since disclosing last month that Gov. Mary Fallin had decided to rebuff implementation grants from the Council of State Governments, CapitolBeatOK has provided several reports on an apparent evolution in guidance of the prison policy reforms enacted in 2012.
In a March 11 email note to Houston, CapitolBeatOK requested for the second time a written response to questions about the philosophy of the envisioned “justice reinvestment initiative,” or JRI as it is called by advocates. CapitolBeatOK also asked for information about the $2 million increase. 

As of 8 a.m. on March 14, Houston had not responded to a request for details on the $2 million increase, nor had an answer been provided to this question, which this writer first posed to the office on March 5:

“I am also interested in any comments from the attorney general or from Melissa Houston, the agency point person for JRI implementation, about the philosophy behind JRI, alternatives to incarceration, diversion programs for non-violent offenders.”

Houston, through the agency spokesman, said she was willing to discuss the issue, but she has not responded to specific requests for a written answer. 

The office did answer three other questions via email, including one on the unfolding process for local law enforcement grants; and for any training of law enforcement personnel concerning the shift in policy that recent legislation is guiding.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s spokeswoman prepared answers which, she told CapitolbeatOK, were reviewed by Houston: 

“The local law enforcement grants being awarded by the Attorney General are provided for in Section 20k of Title 74 of the Oklahoma Statutes. The grants will be awarded to local law enforcement agencies to increase their capacity to reduce violent crime in their community. The statute sets forth priority strategies which the local law enforcement agency may consider utilizing.”

The attorney general’s office was asked to provide as much information as possible, and as clearly as possible, on what kind of spending is envisioned for grants, how they are to be financed in the absence of the CSG (Council of State Governments) funding, and who will do the training for local law enforcement.

Pruitt’s spokeswoman, on behalf of Houston, responded: “The local law enforcement grants being awarded by the Attorney General are provided for in Section 20k of Title 74 of the Oklahoma Statutes. The statute provides clarity and direction on the spending envisioned by the grants. The overriding vision is to provide grant funding to local law enforcement agency to increase their capacity to reduce violent crime in their community.

“This can be accomplished through increased patrols, better technology, greater analytical tools or more meaningful partnerships for example. The grants are being financed through state appropriations.

“The initial funding and subsequent funding for the grant program came through state appropriated dollars. The Attorney General’s Office will be receiving a total of $2 million for fiscal year 2013. The Attorney General has requested more than $4 million in funds for the local law enforcement grant program for fiscal year 2014.”

Asked to provide details on the evolution of the attorney general’s part in JRI implementation, the office replied to CapitolBeatOK as follows: “The Attorney General continues to move forward with the implementation of the local law enforcement grant program. The Attorney General has traveled to different parts of Oklahoma and met with local law enforcement representatives and others to discuss the violent crime problem. He hopes to identify opportunities for the local law enforcement grant program to be utilized to help address violent crime in Oklahoma communities.”

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahoma City bureau chief for Watchdog.org, at Patrick@capitolbeatok.comand follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.