Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — Governor Mary Fallin, House Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman today announced Oklahoma’s kickoff of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a bipartisan effort to engage in a data-driven approach to public safety.
The process will be used to develop dynamic new justice system policies that hold offenders accountable while reducing corrections costs so resources can be reinvested in improved strategies to increase public safety.
“This is about addressing crime in Oklahoma in a better way that we all know exists but have yet to specifically identify,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “Thirty-six states have seen violent crime rate reductions in recent years, but Oklahoma’s violent crime rate remains unacceptably high. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative will determine why this is the case so policies can be developed to achieve better outcomes through our justice system.”
The effort will see Oklahoma partner with the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to conduct rigorous data analyses that will determine the effectiveness of existing public safety and corrections policies.
States such as Texas, Indiana and Kansas have successfully used the JRI method to develop reforms that increase public safety, reduce prison overcrowding and better allocate taxpayer resources.
Oklahomahas the nation’s highest female incarceration rate and third highest male incarceration rate, which has resulted in the state’s prisons continually operating at unsustainable maximum capacity levels. In the past decade, the Department of Corrections has needed supplemental appropriations nearly every year to maintain basic operations.
Fallin said the bipartisan Justice Reinvestment Initiative will offer recommendations to the Legislature about how to improve public safety while better utilizing taxpayer dollars.
"It's important to be smart on crime as well as tough on crime as we look for ways to reduce crime and protect public safety in Oklahoma. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative brings together a bipartisan group to study the legal system and I look forward to reviewing their recommendations."
DOC Director Justin Jones said the JRI process is a key part of ongoing efforts to reduce the strains overcrowded prisons have placed on the state’s budget and communities.
“The first step is for us to collect and analyze the data and fully understand our situation. Once this is done we will be able to craft policy options that apply research and best practices to make the Oklahoma public safer and the criminal justice system more effective,” Jones said.
This year, the governor signed into law House Bill 2131, a major corrections policy reform measure authored by Steele that will divert more low-risk, nonviolent offenders from prison to community sentencing and lessen the governor’s role in the parole process.
“HB 2131 laid the groundwork for the future reforms we will make through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative,” Steele said. “There has been bipartisan, statewide agreement that the course we are on is unsustainable, and the JRI effort is the next step in changing that course.”
To guide the JRI process, the state has established a Justice Reinvestment Working Group composed of state agency directors, legislative leaders and top court officials. Suggestions will also be solicited from stakeholders directly and indirectly involved in the criminal justice system, including judges, district attorneys, public defenders, law enforcement officials, advocates for crime victims and community treatment providers.
“This bipartisan initiative will bring together various agencies and stakeholders who are committed to developing stronger corrections policies that will better protect the public while reducing costs to taxpayers,” Bingman said.
The JRI process will focus on three key areas.
1) Violent crime: Oklahoma needs to determine why its violent crime rate continues to remain high while other states are seeing declines and how to reverse this trend.
2) Supervision: Oklahoma needs to identify the type of offenders under supervision and how they are progressing to determine the effectiveness of all supervision programs.
3) Inmate populations: Oklahoma needs to determine precisely who is being incapacitated through incarceration and the effects of that incarceration inside and outside prison; in addition, the state needs to determine how its current sentencing policies and practices are affecting prison growth.
Steele will serve as co-chair of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, which will meet periodically over the next several months to review the findings of the data analyses and begin crafting policy proposals based upon those findings.
Don Millican, chairman of the Oklahoma Christian University Board of Trustees, will serve as co-chair of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group.
“With the nation’s highest female and third highest male incarceration rates, it is important for Oklahoma to take a step back and ensure we are utilizing the most cost-effective strategies to hold offenders accountable,” Millican said.
Working group member Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, said there will be great value in the comprehensive scope of the JRI.
"In 2010, 4,350 inmates were released with no supervision whatsoever and without regard to the risk they pose. We need to conduct a review of our criminal justice system, from arrest through reentry, and determine where there are opportunities to improve how we do business,” Rice said.
JRI will also see strong cooperation between local, state and national justice officials.
“BJA is excited to provide intensive technical assistance to state officials in Oklahoma who have demonstrated a bipartisan interest in using a justice reinvestment approach,” said Denise O’Donnell, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the U.S. Department of Justice. “Using this data-driven approach, Oklahoma state leaders will be able to identify and address challenges facing their state’s criminal justice system in order to increase public safety and hold offenders accountable.”
Local and national policy and community groups will also assist with the process.
"State leaders across the country are recognizing that there are research-based strategies for nonviolent offenders that can cut both crime and corrections costs," said Adam Gelb, Director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States. "With this bipartisan, interbranch working group, Oklahoma has an excellent opportunity to craft reforms that will give the state a better public safety return on its corrections dollars."
The CSG Justice Center’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative to address corrections spending and increase public safety is a partnership with the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, with additional support to CSG from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice. These efforts have provided similar data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 14 states including Texas, where the state adopted policies that reduced recidivism and saved $443 million in FY 2008-2009 all while crime rates across the state continued to decline.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies—informed by available evidence—to increase public safety and strengthen communities.
More background information at: justicereinvestment.org/states/oklahoma/pubmaps-ok