The Norman Transcript

Opinion

January 22, 2014

Justice initiative a challenge for director

NORMAN — The state Board of Corrections’ hiring of Robert C. Patton to head the beleaguered state prison system this past week comes as the provisions of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative are being debated.

That law, which was passed in the 2012 legislative session, called for more “intermediate revocation facilities” and additional pardon and parole officers to supervise those leaving custody. In theory, those measures and others would decrease prison overcrowding by reducing recidivism.

Neither has been funded, leaving some questioning how much force legislative action can hold. Former House Speaker Kris Steele was the driving force behind the legislation. Steele, a minister, was term-limited out of the House and now works in the world of prisoner rehabilitation.

Earlier this month, separate investigations by Oklahoma Watch and a consortium of two state newspapers and The Associated Press pointed out roadblocks to implementing the legislation.

Gov. Mary Fallin told The Tulsa World that she signed and still supports the initiative but wants the new director to review the legislation. We suspect and hope Mr. Patton was familiar with the reforms before he accepted the job.

The governor and former prisons director Justin Jones were at odds over the state’s use of private prisons to handle overcrowding. Fallin and some lawmakers have been critical of Jones’ tenure at DOC, saying many of the agency’s problems were management issues.

In the meantime, the state continues to back up county jails with sentenced prisoners waiting bedspace at state prisons or to be contracted to private facilities.

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