A corrections reform bill approved by the Legislature in 2012 and signed by the governor was on shaky ground from the beginning. Now the undergirding is really beginning to crumble.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative was a priority for then-House Speaker Kris Steele, who used his time as House leader to try to get his colleagues to think a little differently about corrections and our prison system. As an example, Steele championed an effort designed to send fewer Oklahoma women to prison by providing them social services and counseling that keep their families intact and provide job and schooling opportunities.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is designed to reduce the number of needed state prison beds by about 2,000 over the next decade and cut corrections costs by $200 million, with about $110 million of that to be reinvested in crime-fighting strategies.
The law requires all inmates to receive nine months of supervision on their release from prison — presently, half of Oklahoma inmates get out with no supervision. Those first months back in society can be challenging for many inmates; the mandatory supervision is designed to cut down on recidivism.
The law also calls for intermediate revocation facilities where some inmates who violate probation would go for treatment for addictions or mental health issues, instead of simply being sent back to prison. The law also includes a grant program in which as much as $40 million would be spent for local law enforcement in the next 10 years.
Last summer, Steele put together a working group of the various agencies that would have a hand in implementing the new law. The idea was to provide structure and guidance, and to troubleshoot. Some agencies chose not to attend the meetings — an indication of tepid support for the law. In her proposed budget for fiscal year 2014, Gov. Mary Fallin recommended a $1 million increase for the Department of Corrections. The DOC had sought $67 million more.
DOC Director Justin Jones said the justice reinvestment bill isn't addressed in the proposed budget. He sought $3 million to hire additional probation and parole officers needed to handle the mandatory supervision portion of the law. He also asked for about half a million dollars to provide substance abuse treatment through the intermediate revocation centers.
Fallin requested that the state mental health agency get an additional $16 million next year, so perhaps some of that money could go toward Jones' cause. But the law says the DOC bears the responsibility for providing that treatment.
Steele, who was term limited in 2012, said if the governor and Legislature don't plan to fund the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, then the law should be repealed. Jones shared similar sentiments during a meeting this week with The Oklahoman's editorial board. “Let's just be honest about it and say, ‘You know what? We just don't want to put the money there,'” Jones said.
He and Steele are right. Better to pull the plug than to pretend there's an interest at NE 23 and Lincoln in dealing with corrections any differently than we ever have.