Oklahoma moves ahead with prison reform plans

Despite some embittered political battles and some funding speed bumps, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin appears to be ready to move forward with a sweeping corrections reform plan approved last year.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Modified: May 3, 2013 at 8:58 pm •  Published: May 3, 2013

Six weeks after the leaders of a prison reform board resigned, Oklahoma's top elected officials are moving forward on the reforms without them.

Nearly $3.5 million is available to implement the Justice Reinvestment Act in the state budget agreement announced Wednesday — a million of which will allow Department of Corrections to ramp up the number of probation and parole officers for the first time in years.

What former House Speaker Kris Steele and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater lamented as dead on arrival in March appears now to be trudging along again — albeit in much smaller scope than either of the men envisioned.

“There is absolutely no evidence that we are not going down a road full-bore — the only evidence you have is we didn't ask for federal assistance on training only,” said Steve Mullins, general counsel to Gov. Mary Fallin.

Prater and Steele quit the board at the same meeting in which Mullins announced the governor's office would not pursue nearly $400,000 in federal training grants to begin implementing the reform act.

The act

Signed into law last year, the act seeks to stymie a staggering growth rate in the number of incarcerated people in Oklahoma by developing diversionary programs, monitoring better those released from prison and reinforcing law enforcement activity in the most violent parts of the state.

With about 26,000 people behind bars now, Oklahoma consistently ranks in the top five for per-capita incarceration and leads the nation in the rate of female incarceration.

Rob Johnson, who leads the Senate's public safety subcommittee, said he approved the $3.5 million in appropriations, but he did so begrudgingly because the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, he said, is too soft on crime.

“I also believe that now that we have it we are obligated to fund it,” Johnson, R-Yukon, said, adding that with Steele no longer in the House there is hardly anyone championing the cause.

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