For Oklahoma’s justice reinvestment, analysts say, “Make the change, and stick with it”

 Marshall Clement of the Council of State Governments (CSG) delivered a review of key findings in the 22-page “analysis and police framework” document he and colleague Anne Bettesworth prepared for the state of Oklahoma over the past eight months.

Clement, who runs CSG’s Justice Center, has become a leading figure in the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” (JRI) for the Sooner State, as well as working to develop data-driven and guided criminal justice policies in other states. 

In comments at last week’s JRI event, Clement pointed to a range of reforms that have proven successful in other states. The broad analysis, he said, examined a total of 700,000 records. Oklahoma’s reform panel, under the leadership of Speaker of the House Kris Steele, conducted more than 100 meetings with professionals working in Corrections, law enforcement and other organizations.

Among many findings, the group concluded that “85 percent” prisoners were driving the dramatic expansion in Oklahoma’s prison population. These are prisoners whose offenses fall into a range of crimes that the Legislature had determined, in past years, should serve the vast majority of the time sentenced.

The cost problem for Oklahoma had, Clement said, become “that the 85% population had steadily grown from 10 percent of those inside to 20% of those inside. That was driving the dynamic. Projections were that would rise to 30 percent within the next few years. So, the question was how to impact the numbers by focusing on those less likely to re-offend.”

However, even those with stellar behavior, the analysis found, were actually serving more than 90 percent of their sentences. One reform suggested is to make 85 percent mean 85 percent, and allow “good time” credits to be accumulated throughout incarceration.

Clement reviewed a wide range of other possible reforms that are incorporated in House Bill 3052, which Speaker of the House Kris Steele plans to unveil later this month. The CSG-supported analysis of Oklahoma’s system found that although national crime statistics have moderated significantly, the rate has been flat or even risen in some parts of Oklahoma. Further, more than half of felons leaving prisons are released without any form of post-incarceration supervision to keep them drug- and alcohol-free, and away from re-offending. The likely increase in prison numbers is projected at 2,300 over the next nine years, Clement projected.

altH.B. 3052 aims to refashion criminal justice policy along the lines taken over the past seven years in Texas, to reduce the crime rate 10 percent or more by 2016, mandate post-incarceration supervision to reduce recidivism, and contain projected prison costs.

Speaker Steele spoke and stressed the bipartisan appeal of this work. He said Oklahoma has benefited from the experience of other states that have worked with CSG. The earlier templates allowed the state to finish its work in seven instead of 18 months.

Steele said the JRI program for Oklahoma is designed to avoid as much as $259 million in increased prison costs, then to “reinvest” some $110 million of that into crime prevention programs, including local law enforcement grants. Governor Mary Fallin made justice reinvestment a focus in her State of the State address last week.

Another speaker at the JRI event was Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty. He said recent reductions in federal funding have impacted the city’s efforts to use data to guide placement of law enforcement resources. He noted analysis of crime statistics had helped Oklahoma City reduce the number of “drive-by” shootings from 260 in 2005 to 100 in 2011.

Concerning alternatives to incarceration, Citty said “all issues discussed today have a part in reducing crime. Better mental health services would allow us to put people in a better place than jail, depending on the situation. That is also key in drug treatment.”

Citty thanked CSG and Steele for “involving law enforcement in seeking solutions.”

During a panel discussion with Citty and Clement, state Rep. Jerry Madden of Texas predicted Oklahoma would, if it follows the JRI approach, “reach a tipping point” in controlling costs and lowering crime rates. He encouraged the Legislature to “go beyond what you have to do. That’s the way to get there. You might even in many areas get better results than you expect, as this builds on itself.”

In response to questions from CapitolBeatOK about areas where success at the state level was less than hoped for by analysts and planners, Clement pointed to Kansas. The Sunflower State began a reinvestment effort last decade, making two assumptions: “That they needed to make changes in policy, and to reinvest savings in other parts of the program.” He said the problem they’ve faced is that two years into the effort, “they switched gears and backed off some of the program. Continued reinvestment is critical.”

Madden said wise use of data is crucial. He said, “Stick with it.”

altLast year, after some years of actual decline in prison population, “We had a net increase of 107 prisoners. In other words, we were stable.” Madden told CapitolBeatOK a 5-7 year period for implementation is crucial. He stressed, “Make the change, and stick with it.”

Rep. Madden delivered a major address at the Thursday (February 9) session, encouraging Oklahoma leaders to ask tough questions and seek answers tailored to this state’s needs and reform expectations.

The event at the Jim Thorpe Association headquarters on North Lincoln Boulevard, near the state Capitol, drew a wide range of legislators from both the House and Senate, and members of both parties.