Speaker Kris Steele sketches Texas results, works to advance “justice reinvestment” model
Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele this week discussed in some detail what he described as criminal justice reforms in Texas that he said “have been impressive on several fronts. Over the past five years, Texas has saved $2 billion in incarceration costs and has its lowest violent crime rate in decades. These are both impressive achievements.”
In Steele’s view, “perhaps the most important facet of their reforms is the fact that the Texas Legislature and the public took politics and emotions out of their debate and instead focused on the facts. By doing this, they came to the realization that there is a better way to approach criminal justice. Texas has long had a reputation as a tough-on-crime state, and it still has that reputation, but it is now achieving this distinction in a smarter, more effective way than it did in the past.
“Texas realized that some of the most important work in criminal justice occurs in the area of prevention, treatment and supervision of individuals known to be at risk of offending. In addition, they adjusted the state’s resources accordingly to address this issue. As a result, Texas is utilizing their resources effectively and producing better outcomes at the same time.”
“These women had faced challenges and difficulties that most of us could never imagine. Because of the opportunity and training afforded them through WIR, they had become highly-motivated and equipped to succeed.
“I remember one individual sharing her personal story of how she battled addiction most of her life. She explained she never applied herself because she never believed she could succeed. She was a mother of a beautiful daughter, but never valued the responsibility associated with parenting, due in large part to substance abuse. Through WIR, she received valuable treatment for her addiction, parenting skills, and job training.
“She graduated at the top of her welding class and was invited to speak at her graduation. Her daughter and entire family were present for the big day. She said it was the first time she heard her ten-year-old daughter say, ‘I am proud of you, Mom.’ This woman is now a confident, employed and competent mother. She is fulfilling her goal of being a positive, productive citizen.”
CapitolBeatOK asked how Oklahoma reached the point of such unsustainable and marginally effective programs when it comes to issues of incarceration, prisons, jails, crime and punishment. Steele reflected on the issue for a time, then responded:
“I don’t think it’s any one thing. Some of it is because of policies that have come from the Legislature. Some of it is because of the social struggles our state faces. A lot of it has to do with drugs, broken families and the generational cycles of crime that often result when those types problems enter the lives of our citizens.