The Norman Transcript

January 17, 2014

Politics trumped over sense

The Associated Press

NORMAN — Politics trumping policy isn’t a crime in Oklahoma. Politicians get away with it all the time, even when their actions shortchange constituents.

In 2012, Oklahoma had a chance to begin reforming its prison system. A new model for corrections has yielded results in more than a dozen states. Oklahoma received the same promising formula, known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Lawmakers passed JRI reform two years ago. And then the wheels came off the bus.

After only one year of funding, the initiative, which had the potential to save $200 million over the next decade, went from “political darling to albatross,” according to a recent investigation by the three news sources.

Fallin, as well as new legislative leadership, backed off JRI. The private prison industry also might have played a role in the virtual abandonment of JRI.

That abandonment represents a miserable moment for Oklahomans. Prison expenses rank among the state’s largest expenditures.

The JRI reforms sought to encourage rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders, to lessen emphasis on prison time as punishment for certain offenders, to strictly supervise offenders after their release and to put some of the incarceration savings into crime prevention.

Oklahoman remains handcuffed to a runaway train. Corrections officers are underpaid and prisons are understaffed.

The initiative could have put the brakes on growth and given taxpayers more bang for their buck. Lost is the potential of better protecting the public, better handling the type of inmate who enters and leaves prison.

— Tulsa World

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