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.
BROADER SCOPE OF JRA SUPPORTED BY LAWMAKER
Right now, the Oklahoma County Jail is in a sense the state’s biggest mental health facility, said state Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond. Some of the mentally ill are self-medicating through substance abuse, creating a revolving door in and out of incarceration, he said.
“They are being locked up and put through the court system as opposed to being diverted early on to get mental health treatment,” Grau said. “It’s a lot more effective and efficient to get mentally ill people into some sort of mental health treatment, whether that addresses the mental illness and substance abuse, as opposed to locking them up in a maximum security facility.”
Grau supports many of the justice reforms passed during his first term and would like to see them put in effect. The Regional Jail Act was authored by Grau to enhance the use of the state’s county jails.
“I don’t think we’ve been as aggressive as we need to be in finding those types of diversion programs. Granted if somebody does a serious crime they need to pay the penalty. But a lot of the reasons why we have these habitual offenders is because we have not effectively gotten them treatment.”
Jails operate every hour of the day, making them an expensive item to run. But no legislation allowed counties to work together by sharing a regional jail or a shared jail facility, Grau said. Research revealed several other states already had regional jails. Oklahoma counties wanted to study the idea, he said.
“That makes sense to me. That’s efficiency in government that can be done well,” Grau said. “It can really show taxpayers that their elected officials are tying to spend their money in the wisest way possible.”
Grau also supports a provision of the Justice Reinvestment Act that would increase the monitoring of felons upon their release, he said. More emphasis would be placed on a released inmate’s reporting requirements.
“The purpose for that is not only public safety but also to help the offender reintegrate back into society,” Grau said. “That makes sense because it’s a lot more beneficial to have that offender reintegrate, get a job, get a place to live than to lock them back up.”
Lt. Gov.: Corrections officers, state trooper deserve a raise
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, pays regular visits to correctional facilities in the state. Corrections officers protect the public from bad people, he said.
“Those men and women do an incredible job,” Lamb said.
The state has historic funding issues dealing with the corrections department, infrastructure and salaries, Lamb said. The average starting pay for a state corrections officer is $11.83 an hour. The nationwide average is $15.63 an hour, according to Oklahoma Corrections Professionals.
“It’s no secret that we have a very competitive economy because Oklahoma is doing well,” Lamb said. “There are industries that are willing to pay more than the hourly pay of a corrections officer.”
The state is challenged to keep corrections officers from leaving their jobs when criminals threaten the innocent, Lamb said. His office has been told there are not enough corrections officers in the state.
“I think it’s a priority of any government to make sure we have the men and women who are willing to serve, that we take care of them and make sure they are compensated well,” Lamb said.
The same logic applies for keeping a stable force of state troopers, he said.
“The basic function of government is to protect its people. Our state troopers do that and in many counties in the state, they are the only law around,” Lamb said. “You need a state trooper right now. You don’t need a state trooper when funding is available.”
Oklahoma’s state troopers are underpaid in Oklahoma, Lamb said. Starting annual pay for state troopers is $33,192. Oklahoma has the lowest paid rate for state troopers among the six states bordering Oklahoma, Lamb said. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol ranks 25th in state government for starting salaries, he said.
“Right now we have a shortage of 100 troopers,” Lamb said.
Fallin is for taking a comprehensive look at employee salaries and employee benefits, said Alex Weintz, the governor’s spokesman. A study released last year shows that some Oklahoma state employees have salaries that fall below other state governments and the private sector, Weintz said. However, he said their benefits exceed their counterparts in both public service and business.
“The governor wants to take a comprehensive look at readjusting that balance,” Weintz said.
TO LEARN MORE about the Justice Reinvestment Act, visit http://tinyurl.com/m4wnk8v