Why is the 'Justice Reinvestment Initiative' on the Shelf?

Jul 23, 2013

in a 2011 news conference at the State Capitol, then House Speaker Kris Steele announces the Justice Reinvestment program.
Credit State of Oklahoma-File photo

In 2011, the Oklahoma Justice Reinvestment Initiative passed the legislature with great fanfare and signed into law by Governor Fallin. Kris Steele was the Oklahoma House Speaker back then:

KRIS STEELE: “While the overall appropriation to corrections has increased 32% over the last 10-years, our violent crime rate continues to increase. 36 other states have experienced a decrease in their violent crime rate while in Oklahoma, ours remains high. In fact, it is increasing.”

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative was to have addressed that problem. It hasn’t. Term limited from office, Steele is the director of TEEM. That stands for The Education and Employment Ministry. He is disappointed little has happened since 2011. He blames the executive branch. We asked “why” since the Governor signed the measure.

KRIS STEELE: “They lost all interest in the reformed she signed into law. I think you just asked the million dollar question.”

Marshall Clement is with the National Council of State Governments. He heads various initiative programs. He says Texas has a similar program to Oklahoma’s, only it has been put into action.

MARSHALL CLEMENT: “In Texas, we have seen the prison population flat line. They have not had to build a single new bed. They saved $440-million in the first two years of the effort alone. That was after they reinvested $240-million in expanding treatment programs.”

The Director of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety is Michael Thompson. He says Oklahoma’s high recidivism rate needs attention.

MICHAEL THOMPSON: “It is costly to incarcerate people at the rate we do. It is equally costly when those offenders go out and reoffend and return to the state prison system.”

KRIS STEELE: “Let me give you an example: In the state of Oklahoma, once a person pays their debt and are released back into society, they are given $50 and a bus ticket with no direction.”

It was 40 years ago this month that a riot raced through the overcrowded and underfunded state prison at McAlester. The Corrections Department was put under the control of the federal court system. Some worry we may not have learned from past mistakes.