Oklahoma state leaders announce Justice Reinvestment Initiative
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Published: 23-Jun-2011
Speaker of the House Kris Steele and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, joined by several other state officials and a large group of private sector advocates, today announced the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. 

In a session at the Blue Room in the state Capitol, they announced a partnership with the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the Pew Center on the States and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (U.S. Department of Justice) to conduct 18 months of “rigorous data analyses” to gauge the effectiveness of current public safety and corrections policies. 

Organizers of today’s event stressed to reporters, with evident enthusiasm, that the initiative will not cost Oklahoma taxpayers, save for what Steele noted would be “staff time, and some costs through the natural process.” Start of the initiative triggers creation of a working group co-chaired by Steele and Don Millican, leader of the Board of Trustees at Oklahoma Christian University. 

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Marshall Clement of CSG said that in “every state where the justice reinvestment program has been carried out, crime rates have continued to fall.”

Clement reported that in Texas, parole revocation rates dropped 26 percent, and probation revocation rates (“a particularly challenging part of the system”) fell four percent.” 

Asked how much reform might be realistic in the 2012 legislative session, Speaker Steele told CapitolBeatOK, “We will be diligent in the process. This will be a priority for what will be my last legislative session, due to term limits. It is my hope, goal and desire to accomplish as much as we can, but it is clear that we can’t solve the problem overnight.”

A partial basis for criminal justice reform was laid in the 2011 session, through passage of Speaker Steele’s House Bill 2131 which aims to divert low-risk nonviolent offenders into community sentencing and limit the governor’s traditional role in parole.

Steele said the process of analysis in the new initiative will focus on three areas:

“1)  Violent crime: Oklahoma needs to determine why its violent crime rate continues to remain high while other states are seeing declines and how to reverse this trend.

“2)      Supervision: Oklahoma needs to identify the type of offenders under supervision and how they are progressing to determine the effectiveness of all supervision programs.

“3)      Inmate populations: Oklahoma needs to determine precisely who is being incapacitated through incarceration and the effects of that incarceration inside and outside prison; in addition, the state needs to determine how its current sentencing policies and practices are affecting prison growth.” 

Speaker Steele told reporters, ““This is about addressing crime in Oklahoma in a better way that we all know exists but have yet to specifically identify. 

“Thirty-six states have seen violent crime rate reductions in recent years, but Oklahoma’s violent crime rate remains unacceptably high. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative will determine why this is the case so policies can be developed to achieve better outcomes through our justice system.”

Bingman commented, “This bipartisan initiative will bring together various agencies and stakeholders who are committed to developing stronger corrections policies that will better protect the public while reducing costs to taxpayers.” 

Although not present at today’s meeting with reporters, state Sen. Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City, Democratic leader in the upper chamber, strongly endorsed the justice reinvestment initiative. 

"In 2010, 4,350 inmates were released with no supervision whatsoever and without regard to the risk they pose. We need to conduct a review of our criminal justice system, from arrest through reentry, and determine where there are opportunities to improve how we do business,” Rice said.

Sen. Rice is serving on the working group, and said the comprehensive scope of the initiative would work in its favor.

Governor Mary Fallin was not present, but was represented at the announcement by Michael Thompson, her Cabinet secretary of Safety and Security, and public safety commissioner. Thompson said the state would continue to be “tough on crime, and equally important we will become smart on crime.” He said public policy in the area should be based on “facts, not emotion. I appreciate the vision of those who are working on this problem.” 

Others attending today’s session included state Rep. Lisa Billy of Purcell, Director Howard Hendrick of the Department of Human Services, Director Justin Jones of the state Department of Corrections, Assistant Attorney General Mellissa McLawhorn Houston, and Amy Santee of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. 

A total of 14 states have conducted similar processes, including Texas, Kansas and Indiana. Steele and Clement noted that savings in the Lone Star State were $443 million by Fiscal Year 2008-09. 

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