Watch-Out One: His ‘gut’ says no indictments in death penalty probe, as Joe Allbaugh tackles Corrections reform

OKLAHOMA CITY – Joe Allbaugh, interim director at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said “my gut tells me” there will not be any indictments forthcoming as a result of a current multi-county grand jury investigation of the state’s death penalty process.

Allbaugh stressed, “I have no idea about anything in the grand jury process,” but that he did not think there will be indictments flowing from the testimony of those who have appeared before the panel in the last few months.

In response to a question from this reporter, Allbaugh made the comments while speaking at a “Watch-Out” session sponsored by Oklahoma Watch.

The session was moderated by the news organization’s Executive Editor, David Fritze. Allbaugh spoke for an hour, and answered a wide range of questions from Fritze and members of the audience.

He said he supports the death penalty and that “all the processes” are now in place to assure that any future impositions of capital punishment are carried out without a repeat of the controversies accompanying implementation in the past two years.

In response to a question from Tim Farley of Red Dirt Report, an online news organization based in Oklahoma City, Allbaugh said, “I am for the medicinal use of marijuana. I am not for its recreational use.”

Allbaugh told Fritze that as the state Corrections Department faced rising turmoil last winter, he contacted a friend in Oklahoma, his native state, to express interest in taking over the top spot at the agency, but that he stressed, “I don’t want to be a caretaker.” The friend, a knowledgeable of the state’s challenges, passed Allbaugh’s sentiments along, and “ten minutes later,” Gov. Mary Fallin called him.

Allbaugh then communicated with a member of the commission that governs the Corrections agency, beginning a process that soon led to his selection as Interim Director.

That choice was surprising to many observers. However, he related during this week’s “Watch-Out” that his political and management skills had included helping to shepherd early stages of a process examining problems in Texas in 1995 and 1997, during the tenure of Gov. George W. Bush.

That process, Allbaugh said, laid the basis for historic prison and criminal justice reforms that began implementation in 2006.

Those reforms included diversion of non-violent offenders, including those with drug and alcohol abuse issues, into alternative programs. After several years, the first signs of significant progress in curbing the Lone Star State’s prison population were apparent.

In recent years the state has canceled plans for additional prisons. Today, Texas is among the handful of states where prison reform has lowered crime rates, reduced costs and afforded better prospects for those who have served time to avoid returning to prisons.