Gov. Fallin hails bill that revises Council overseeing prisoner reentry programs
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Published: 14-Mar-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – On the evening of March 13 (Wednesday), the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed House Bill 2042, a measure changing composition of the Reentry Policy Council, apparently as part of a change in administration and oversight of prison reforms enacted last year.

The measure, first deemed a “Speaker’s bill” but carried the last few weeks by state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, passed 57-35. The proposal now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

Gov. Mary Fallin said the measure will “formalize” implementation of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), a shift in state policy to reduce incarceration of non-violent offenders with use of data-based and proven reforms.

Fallin’s office, in a press release late Wednesday evening, said House Bill 3052 – which she signed last year – was envisioned to transition “non-violent offenders with substance abuse problems to drug and alcohol treatment. It also aims to reduce the recidivism rate by providing supervision for those who have been released from prison. 

The law also gives courts the option to use a presentence risk and needs-assessments/evaluations to help guide sentencing decisions regarding the most appropriate level of punishment, supervision, and treatment for each offender.”

The broader change in philosophy concerning non-violent offenders has been part of an envisioned strategy, modeled on successful programs in Texas and elsewhere, to flatten or even lower Corrections costs.

Oklahoma is consistently among the top five states for incarceration rates, as high as number one for female imprisonment and third for male imprisonment.
 
A coalition of state agencies and “stakeholders” across the state have met regularly since last year to advance implementation of JRI. Recent developments are concentrating implementation in the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and the Department of Corrections.

The governor’s press release Wednesday night said H.B. 2042 incorporates “a formal governmental body within state government to supervise JRI implementation, within the existing state entity called the Re-Entry Policy Council. Members would be selected by both the legislature and the Governor.”

The Re-Entry Council, passed several years ago, was originally structured to include designated representatives of law enforcement, with one position held for a formerly incarcerated individual.

Murphey’s bill removes the law enforcement specificity, giving three appointments each to the governor, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Temp of the Senate. 

Fallin said in her release, sent to CapitolBeatOK, “The JRI initiative is part of a ‘smart on crime’ philosophy that I have long advocated for. I am absolutely committed to seeing this initiative succeed.

We need to get non-violent offenders whose crimes are related to addiction and substance abuse the help they need to get sober and be constructive members of their community. That’s why it’s so important we get JRI right.

As of now, there is no formal governmental group who has been legally tasked with implementing this plan and making it work. The members of the working group are well-intentioned and committed to JRI, and I applaud them for their service. However, they are an informal, extra-governmental group with limited access to the daily implementation efforts of the agencies tasked with this important reform effort.

My thanks go out to the House for working to create a formal government body to assist in the implementation of JRI. This will improve oversight and implementation while also ensuring the workings of the new Re-Entry Policy Council fall under transparency guidelines outlined in the Open Meetings Act.”

Meetings of the existing working group, characterized as “ad hoc” in the governor’s release, have been publicly announced and have followed provisions of the Open Meetings Act.

Answering a question from CapitolBeatOK last week, House Speaker T.W. Shannon also used the “ad hoc” term to characterize the existing Working Group, co-chaired by former House Speaker Kris Steele and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. 

In the Wednesday night release, Steve Mullins, general counsel to the chief executive, said the reorganized Council would provide needed support for JRI implementation:

One important partner in the implementation of JRI is the Council of State Governments (CSG). For CSG to work with the state of Oklahoma, they need clear and authoritative guidance. The JRI Working Group can’t do that, because it is not a government body.  

The Re-Entry Council will be able to speak on behalf of the state and will be more directly involved with implementation.”

In exchanges with CapitolBeatOK, Rep. Murphey had deemed the proposed changes to the Council, created during the speakership of former state Rep. Lance Cargill, as non-controversial.

Last week, Murphey told CapitolBeatOK, “I think I thought I would just make it the choice of the appointing authorities without restraining their options. I don't remember a lot of the specifics but probably knew that enhancing the authority of the board could conflict with restricting the applicant pool to the Cargill-era vision.”

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.


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