The Edmond Sun

Local News

February 7, 2014

Governor renews support for justice reforms

EDMOND — Gov. Mary Fallin renewed her commitment to the Justice Reinvestment Act this week at her State of the State address.

The Justice Reinvestment Act was signed into law by Fallin in 2012.

The Oklahoma Legislature appropriated $2 million in 2013 for a grant program for local law enforcement to respond to violent crime, said state Rep. Jason Murphey. An additional $4.2 million was submitted by Attorney General Scott Pruitt to increase the grant program in 2014, said Murphey, R-Guthrie.

Funding for JRA is subject to the Legislature appropriating it, Murphey said. The governor said she looks forward to a renewed partnership among the Department of Corrections, state Legislature and her office, as they work together to improve and evaluate initiatives including the JRA.

Murphey said Fallin’s office has taken heat unfairly by the press in recent weeks regarding how the program is funded.

“Any indication that JRA hasn’t been funded or has been ignored is not accurate. It’s hype,” Murphey said. “And it’s hype that isn’t appreciated by those of us who know the truth, and know this thing has been taken seriously but terribly politicized.”

The Justice Reinvestment Act is meant to reduce corrections spending and increase public safety, according to the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center. CSG worked with the state in 2011-12 to provide a thorough analysis of Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.

The study notes that the national violent crime rate fell five times faster than Oklahoma’s violent crime rate in the previous decade; murder rates actually increased in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. More than half of inmates were released from prison without supervision, and supervision determinations were not informed by risk assessment, according to the report.

“For non-violent offenders in our prison population, we’re working hard to offer rehabilitation, so we can be smarter on crime as we are tough on crime,” Fallin said.

JRA also serves to:

• Establish a new state-funded grant program to assist local law enforcement agencies in implementing data-drive strategies to reduce violent crime;

• Institutes a pre-sentence risk and needs screening process to help guide sentencing decisions about treatment and supervision;

• Mandates supervision for all adults released from prison; and

• Creates more cost-efficient and meaningful responses to supervision violations.

“Where it got political — it wasn’t necessarily every aspect of the program that was funded,” Murphey said. “The governor also had some concerns that in its original form that the JRA proposal didn’t have a centralized oversight. And it looked like the only centralized oversight was being done by an ad hoc committee.”

Murphey said the committee operated in a gray area where the taxpayer did not know in the Open Records law how appointments would be made. Important concepts that are necessary for transparency and due process where ignored, Murphey said. So Fallin proposed having oversight through a regular board to increase public awareness of successes and failures of the JRI initiatives, Murphey said.

He carried the legislation to combine that oversight with an existing board. Murphey said there are components within JRI that resist the oversight.

“At some point in the Legislature we’ll need to ask, ‘If there isn’t oversight, should we continue to appropriate that money or not?’” Murphey said. “And the answer may be no. We worked on it last year and it got so political that we just abandoned the effort.”

Until there is central oversight and reporting, it will be more difficult to have a comprehensive report on the program as a whole, he said.

“We’ve already increased resources to programs assisting those suffering from mental health issues, including drug abuse and addiction, helping people get the treatment they need to rejoin their families and their communities as productive, happy members of society,” Fallin said this week.

Murphey said he does not know if increased resources to these programs is specifically JRA money. But the Legislature increased funding for mental health by $40 million last year at Fallin’s request.

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