Oklahoma turns back on Prison Reform

March 18,2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 11.57.54 AMOaklahoma consistently is among the top five states in the use of incarceration (number one for women). Under these circumstances one might expect it to follow in the steps of its conservative neighbors, especilly Texas, who have led in the extraordinary reduction in imprisonment and adoption of alternative to prison policies.

That was the case until recently, when according to the City Centinel, Governor Mary Fallin’s administration did an about face in its commitment to prison reform. The “justice reinvestment” initiative” (JRI), has in recent weeks seen a substantial weakening of prison reform plans, culminating in the resignation of JRI author Kris Steele, former speaker of the state House, from the inter-agency and private sector working group that was overseeing implementation”….Once again according to the Sentinel,”Gov. Mary Fallin’s legal counsel, Steve Mullins, has guided major shifts in administration and oversight in recent weeks, effectively gutting the infrastructure that led implementation until mid-February.”

The easiest way to follow the conflict and its various parambuations is to look at the individuals these changes are likely to affect.

According to Corrections Officials,” only a handful of parole violators were in the agency’s pipeline for intermediate sanctions (short of a return to full-fledged imprisonment) for what were described as technical rather than substantive or deliberate parole violations. While” Mental Health Department officials, in contrast, described early implementation touching more than 120 individuals…”

The “Tulsa World” describes this latest failure of will, as just one of a long history of planned prison reform failures in Oklahoma. This, of course, is just another example of the backsliding we are observing, as conservative states and jurisdictions actually come up against real reform and its consequences. More than a few step back from the brink, a phenomenum that is important to note and report as happens.

As I’ve descried in the past, the failure of states to embrace reform is important to note, but failures to implement or provide the  structure, resource or institutional support that can make prison reform and reductions in recidivism real, are a more insidious form of failure, that we need to be ever vigilant about.

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