Justin Jones has spent his career — nearly 40 years — in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and now is the agency's director. He has a pretty good feel for how the DOC is viewed by the Legislature.
“There's no political dividends, I think, for funding corrections,” Jones told The Oklahoman's editorial board recently. “So ‘whatever you can get by with' is just what you're going to get.”
That helps explain why, after signing a corrections reform bill last year that is designed to slow the growth of the state's inmate population, the governor has suggested the DOC receive a $1 million increase in its fiscal year 2014 budget. The message seems to be, “We dealt with corrections last year, now it's time to move on.”
But one piece of that reform bill, called the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, requires all inmates to have nine months of supervision once they're released — an effort to reduce the chances that they might reoffend and wind up back in prison. Presently, 51 percent of Oklahoma inmates are released with zero supervision.
Jones figures he needs about $3 million to hire the number of parole and probation officers it would take to handle the increased workload. As it is, pardon and parole officers are inundated. Note an example in Tulsa, where a man now accused of being involved with killing four women was one of 150 cases handled by a parole officer. The process of determining whether the man's parole should be revoked after his conviction on a misdemeanor took two months, during which time the murders were committed.
Even if the Justice Reinvestment Act were funded, the prison population would still grow, but at a slower pace. Lawmakers, Jones said, “don't want to hear that we're growing.”
Indeed most prefer not to hear much of anything about corrections, except that we're putting away bad guys and keeping them locked up as long as possible.