Speaker Steele, Council of State Governments unveil “justice reinvestment” initiative

Late last week a report was released by the Council of State Governments that addressed the problems with the Oklahoma criminal justice system as it currently operates. The study concluded with recommendations for improvement.

Three goals the study said the state should seek are: means to fight crime and enhance public safety, strengthening supervision,and containment of prison costs. It also laid out recommendations on how those goals could be accomplished.

Leaders from throughout the state provided insights and data for the study. The report detailed that violent crime has risen in most of the state (or declined less than in other states) even as the number of police officers protecting the public has declined.

Services available to the mentally ill have been curtailed and the state’s police have had to deal more with people suffering from mental illness, leaving less time to apprehend violent criminals.
The report concluded the state must fund additional facilities for the treatment of the mentally ill to allow law enforcement the ability to spend more time on criminal investigations. In addition, it urges that the state assist local law enforcement agencies by funding programs that will effectively deter crime and provide more funding for specific programs operated by Oklahoma’s district attorneys.

The report also documented how much crime in the state involves drug offenders and recommended that centers were those addicted to drugs could receive treatment rather than being sent to prison Authors document how those being released from prison are not being adequately supervised after release.

Members of the task force point to budget constraints currently facing the Pardon and Parole Division of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, and other entities involved in post-conviction supervision.

The analysis urges that all released offenders, particularly those who have are likely to violate the law again, receive direct supervision for at least nine months after release, that those who violate terms of supervision receive sanctions for doing so, and that those most at risk of re-offending have access to treatment.

Regarding containment of prison costs, the study made several proposals to further that goal. They include what is described as “graduated approach to sentencing” for people convicted of drug related offenses that would be determined by the individual’s criminal history and risk of re-offending.

People convicted of the most serious crimes, including crimes of violence, should continue to be required to serve 85 per cent of their sentences before being eligible for release, the report recommends. Currently, judges in Oklahoma have a relatively short period of time in which they can modify a sentence imposed that they have previously imposed on a criminal defendant. The report’s authors believe that that period should be lengthened so that a sentence can me modified based on what the defendant has done since the date of his or her initial sentencing .

Investment of $110 million in the state’s criminal justice system over the next two decades is needed, but the report concludes the reforms will save the state $249 million during that time, reduce the number of offenders being sent to prison.

House Speaker Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican, outlined provisions of the comprehensive analysis of the Oklahoma criminal justice system. With Steele for the presentation was Marshall Clement, project director for the CSG’s Justice Center. 

Clement was a lead researcher for the new study. Oklahoma is the latest state to undertake a “justice reinvestment initiative,” seeking ways to make post-conviction processes more effective. Efforts in Texas boosting treatment and supervision have saved money while reducing costs.

The study was requested by Speaker Steele, Governor Mary Fallin and Supreme Court Justice James Edmondson.

Steele, who served on the 20-member that served on the task force, said that some of the proposals may be enacted into law in the next legislative session.

Joining Steele and Coleman for the presentation were two other members of the JRI working group: Don Millican, Co-Chair of the JRI effortmand Chairman of the Oklahoma Christian University Board of Trustees, and Terri White, Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and a working group member. 

Costs for the study, which involved more than 300 state and local officials, were paid by CSG and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (U.S. Department of Justice).

The working group included Steele, Millican, Cline, White, state Sen. Patrick Anderson of Enid, Trent Baggett (Oklahoma District Attorneys Council), Currie Ballard (Pardon and Parole Board), state Rep. Lisa Billy of Purcell, Allyson Carson (Victim Services Coordinator, Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office), Rebecca Frazier (Office of the Governor), Director Howard Hendrick (Department of Human Services), state Rep. Scott Inman of Del City, Arlene Johnson (presiding Judge, Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals), Justin Jones (Department of Corrections), Melissa McLawhorn Houston (Attorney General’s Office), Ken McNair (Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association) state Sen. Jonathan Nichols of Norman, Terry Cline (Department of Health), Amy Santee (George Kaiser Family Foundation), and Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater. 
Note: William F. O’Brien is a frequent writer for The City Sentinel in Oklahoma City. This is his first story for CapitolBeatOK. Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report. Photos accompanying this story were taken by Aran Coleman.