Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin Renews Interest In 2012 Underfunded Prison Reform Law

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin’s office appears to have a renewed interest in a 2012 public safety law that largely went unimplemented because of politics and a lack of funding.

In 2012, under the leadership of then-House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, the Legislature passed and Fallin signed House Bill 3052, the highly touted Justice Reinvestment Initiative. It came after months of study and consultation with outside groups and key stakeholders. Other states have seen successes and savings under the process used by Oklahoma to develop JRI, Steele said.

The measure was designed to increase public safety and slow the rate of growth of the state’s offender population.

It required mandatory supervision for felons released from prison who were sentenced after the law took effect in 2012. It created intermediate facilities with treatment for those who violate drug court regulations or conditions of probation. The idea was to divert those who would otherwise go back to prison and serve a sentence.

Of the 288 recommendations, 58 have been sanctioned, said Terri Watkins, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman.  The law required mental-health and drug-risk screenings for offenders, something which is not being done in every county. It created a grant program controlled by the Attorney General’s Office for local law-enforcement agencies to reduce violent crime.

The entire program was never fully funded.

The original measure was written by Steele and Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.

“I am optimistic and enthusiastic,” said Steele, who resigned from a working group overseeing the law’s implementation in disgust at the way Fallin’s office had handled implementation of the law.

He said he has spoken with Fallin and believes she is taking a second look at the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

“I am not looking back,” said Steele, who is the executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry, a nonprofit that works to break the cycle of incarceration and poverty. “The happiest person in the state of Oklahoma, if we can implement these reforms, will be me.”

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