Bi-partisan majority sends Oklahoma's justice reforms to Senate, action anticipated within two weeks
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Published: 11-Mar-2012

House Bill 3052, the historic “justice reinvestment initiative” patterned on reforms in other states (including Texas), passed the state house last week. Oklahoma state Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman told Capitol reporters the measure should be processed through the upper chamber in the next couple of weeks. 

The proposal blends ideas that have come from a diverse network of national organizations with long-standing interest in criminal justice reform, particularly the burgeoning costs of incarceration for non-violent offenses. The Council of State Governments (CSG) worked closely with Speaker of the House Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican, in crafting the bill

The new law would require nine months of post-release supervision of convicted felons.

The measure includes an initial appropriation of $6 million. As Steele has detailed, the intention is to “reinvest” some avoided costs. The $260 million in additional prison cost without reform amounts to an unsustainable figure, Steele has argued. The Steele plan envisions spending perhaps $110 million on various programs instead of on several thousand new prison beds. Steele said the state can “bend the curve”– seeing roughly a 2 percent growth in prison population and costs with reform, versus a 9 percent jump without it.

The plan entails, ultimately, five new “crisis units” of 16 beds each, for those arrested needing mental health intervention rather than jail time. Governor Mary Fallin included a proposal for the first such unit in her budget.

A $40 million grant program would assist local law enforcement entities over the coming decade. The measure puts in place at least nine months of post-release supervision of all felons – reforming a status quo in which just over half of those released are set free without any form of oversight.

The measure also enacts reforms aimed at controlling prison population growth. A primary means to this end is to revise current policy for what are often dubbed “85 percent crimes,” the percentage referencing the portion of a sentence that must be served. In practical effect, denial of “good time” credits until 85 percent is served has meant many prisoners with good behavior wind up serving 90 to 95 percent of time sentenced – preventing a “reward” for good behavior.

If enacted, the new provisions would require nine months of post-release supervision of convicted felons.

When H.B. 3052 reached the floor last week, a question time and final debate of nearly one hour ensued. Speaker Steele handled questions from both sides of the aisle, and from both ends of the spectrum. 

In dialogue with state Rep. Mike Shelton, an Oklahoma city Democrat, Steele stressed the importance of the provisions for all serious offenders to have, after their prison terms, at least nine months of supervision. (Presently, more than half get out with no supervision of any kind.) 

Members like state Rep. Richard Morrissette, an Oklahoma City Democrat, thought the measure would give too much power to District Attorneys to decide on diversion programs for mental health and drug offenses. Steele said the involvement of the judiciary would provide balance to the equation. 

State Rep. Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, was concerned about assessment programs and possible violations of the Fifth Amendment's strictures against self-incrimination, but Steele observed the legislation was reviewed by many attorneys and specialists to protect against the problem. 

Steele also explained use of intermediate facilities (some existing Corrections beds, some contracted private beds) for dealing with technical violations after sentences have been served. 

The legislation cleared the House with a strong 66-27 majority. Morrissette, who pressed the issue strongly from the “defense” side, later congratulated the speaker for his stewardship of the issue. . 

The background report providing the basis for reform came from the work of a bi-partisan statewide working group. The report was crafted after more than 100 meetings with law enforcement officials and hundreds of system “stake holders.” 

Members of the working group included Speaker Steele, Marshall Clement of CSG, Don Millican (Co-Chair of the JRI effort and Chairman of the Oklahoma Christian University Board of Trustees), Terri White, Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, state Sen. Patrick Anderson of Enid, Trent Baggett (Oklahoma District Attorneys Council), Currie Ballard (Pardon and Parole Board), state Rep. Lisa Billy of Lindsay, Allyson Carson (Victim Services Coordinator, Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office), Rebecca Frazier (Office of the Governor), Director Howard Hendrick (Department of Human Services), state Rep. Scott Inman of Del City, Arlene Johnson (presiding Judge, Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals), Justin Jones (Department of Corrections), Melissa McLawhorn Houston (Attorney General’s Office), Ken McNair (Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association) state Sen. Jonathan Nichols of Norman, Terry Cline (Department of Health), Amy Santee (George Kaiser Family Foundation), and Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater.

Robert Coombs, a senior policy analyst for CSG, visited the state recently for meetings with legislators, including many in the minority Democratic caucus, and others. 

Also pressing for reforms paralleling those in H.B. 3052 has been “Right on Crime,” a national organization based at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), which has long advocated for alternatives to incarceration for non-violent crimes. Edwin Meese III, attorney general for Ronald Reagan, has backed the reforms advanced by Marc Levin, who runs the TPPF. 

A “right on crime” ally, former Arkansas U.S. Attorney Asa Hutchison recently met with legislators, including members of the Republican caucus, to give his perspective on the reforms embedded in H.B. 3052. 

Additionally, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a bi-partisan organization for state legislators, has become increasingly active in the push for alternatives to incarceration. 

This year, ALEC is pressing a number of model bills that echo provisions in House Bill 3052. A press release form the group affirmed, “ALEC supports reforms that protect communities at a lower cost by reducing recidivism through strengthening community supervision programs, improving government efficiency through data collection and performance measurement and concentrating prison space on violent career criminals.”

In addition to advocacy groups, news organizations such as CapitolBeatOK, Oklahoma Watch, the state's two largest newspapers, and the Associated Press, have in the past two years devoted thousands of words each to lengthy stories and analyses of existing examples, inside and outside of Oklahoma, of effective alternatives to incarceration, better supervision models and other aspects of criminal justice. 

As it cleared the House, H.B. 3052 had the support of 40 Republicans and 26 Democrats. Voting no were 23 Republicans and four Democrats. Not voting were five Republicans and one Democrat. Two seats in the 101-member lower chamber are presently vacant.

Republicans voting yes were Don Armes of Faxon, Gary Banz of Midwest City, Lisa Billy of Lindsay, Dennis Casey of Morrison, Ann Coody of Lawton, Marian Cooksey of Edmond, Doug Cox of Grove, David Dank of Oklahoma City, Lee Denney of Cusing, Floor Leader Dale DeWitt of Braman, John Enns of Enid, Randy Grau of Edmond, Tommy Hardin of Madill, Jeff Hickman of Dacoma, Fred Jordan of Jenks, Sally Kern of Oklahoma City, Guy Liebmann of Oklahoma City, Scott Martin of Norman, Steve Martin of Bartlesville, Randy McDaniel of Oklahoma City, Skye McNiel of Bristow, Lewis Moore of Arcadia, Glen Mulready of Tulsa, Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, Jadine Nollan of Sand Springs, Charles Ortega of Altus, Pat Ownbey of Ardmore, Ron Peters of Tulsa, Pam Peterson of Tulsa, Marty Quinn of Claremore, Phil Richardson of Minco, Sean Roberts of Hominy, Todd Russ of Cordell, Earl Sears of Bartlesville, Todd Thomsen of Ada, Steven Vaughan of Ponca City, Weldon Watson of Tulsa, Harold Wright of Weatherfordand the Speaker. 

Democrats voting yes were Mike Brown of Tahlequah, Ed Cannaday of Porum, Donnie Condit of McAlester, Joe Dorman of Rush Spriungs, William Fourkiller of Stilwell, Larry Glenn of Miami, Wes Hilliard of Sulphue, Chuck Hoskin of Vinita, Steve Kouplen of Beggs, James Lockhart of Heavener, Curtis McDaniel of District 1 (far southeast Oklahoma), Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa, Jerry McPeak of Warner, Danny Morgan of Prague, Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City, R.C. Pruett of Antlers, Brian Renegar of McAlester, Wade Rousselot of Wagoner, Seneca Scott of Tulsa, Mike Shelton of Oklahoma City, Ben Sherrer of Pryor Creek, Jerry Shoemake of Morris, Emily Virgin of Norman, Purcy Walker of Elk City, and Minority Leader Scott Inman of Del City.

Although he remained low key during floor debate, Minority Leader Inman supported the “justice reinvestment” process and served with Steele on the panel that made the case for the bill. Rep. Hickman also worked diligently on the matter, and lent his support to the Speaker during the final debate. 

Republicans voting no were John Bennett of Sallisaw, Gus Blackwell of Lavern, David Brumbaugh of Broken Arrow, Mike Christian of Oklahoma City, Josh Cockroft of McLoud, David Derby of Owasso, Elise Hall of Oklahoma City, Mike Jackson of Enid, Dennis Johnson of Duncan, Charlie Joyner of Midwest City, Dan Kirby of Tulsa, Jason Murphey of Guthrie, Tom Newell of Seminole, Leslie Osborn of Tuttle, Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City, Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow, Dustin Roberts of Durant, Mike Sanders of Kingfisher, Colby Schwartz of Yukon, T.W. Shannon of Lawton (speaker-designate), Aaron Stiles of Norman, Randy Terrill of Moore, and Paul Wesselhoft of Oklahoma City. 

Democrats voting no were Rebecca Hamilton of Oklahoma City, Richard Morrissette of Oklahoma City, Eric Proctor of Tulsa and Cory Williams of Stillwater.

Not voting were five Republicans: George Faught of Muskogee, Corey Holland of Marlow, Charles Key of Oklahoma City, Sue Tibbs of Tulsa, and John Trebilcock of Broken Arrow; Democratic Rep. Jabar Shumate of Tulsa did not vote. 

After years of preparation and a six-month effort by the working group, Steele's proposal began its formal journey to enactment late last month with strong support in the House Appropriations and Budget committee. The speaker, who has made the justice reinvestment initiative a priority, fielded questions and discussed the measure with members (http://capitolbeatok.com/reports/historic-justice-reinvestment-initiative-house-bill-3052-gains-bipartisan-support-from-appropriation) on the panel, which approved it 10-2

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