More air came out of the tires of the state's Justice Reinvestment Act when the governor's office decided recently to reject federal grant money that would have helped get the prison reform law off the ground.
The legislation, pushed by former House Speaker Kris Steele and signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, was designed to slow the state's prison population growth and reduce recidivism rates. It called for nine months of supervision for all inmates leaving prison, establishment of facilities where inmates who violate probation could get treatment for addictions or mental health issues, and a grant program to help law enforcement agencies.
All of this requires money on the front end, with cost savings projected in the future. But the governor's proposed budget for the Department of Corrections included only a small bump over last year, not nearly enough to cover these new costs DOC will incur. And now her office, after initially saying yes to the money, has decided it wouldn't be accepting a one-time grant of about $400,000 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to help finance training of law enforcement, prosecutors and others involved.
Those costs will instead be covered with state money, at least in theory. We hope this happens, because the Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a good idea, one that's been successful in other states.
But it's looking more and more as though passage of the bill last year may have been not much more than a sop to the outgoing speaker, a way for policymakers to say “look what we've done” but with no real intention to follow up once Steele was gone.
Many of those who remain at the Capitol seem to prefer handling corrections as the state always has, which has left Oklahoma with prisons bursting at the seams. Better to just pull the plug on JRI than to pretend that any meaningful changes are really on the way.