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January 7, 2014

What prison reform?

NORMAN — When he left the legislature, former House Speaker Kris Steele felt so strongly about corrections reform that he went to work trying to help break the cycle of incarceration that plagues so many Oklahoma families.

Mr. Steele, a minister, and his fellow mentors try and keep inmates from repeating the behavior that landed them behind bars in the first place. Some of the state’s efforts at reform passed by the 2012 legislature were designed to slow the increasing number of inmates.

Reports by The Associated Press and the state’s two largest newspapers show that some of the initiatives pushed by Mr. Steele and endorsed by former corrections director Justin Jones are now getting a less-than enthusiastic response from the governor’s office.

The state’s prison system has about 27,000 inmates and relies on private prisons to take the overload from state facilities. It also leaves sentenced prisoners in county jails while waiting for space.

Lawmakers fear the combination of overcrowded facilities and overworked guards pulling double shifts due to staff shortages could lead to a tragedy inside the walls similar to the 1973 riot at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

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