The state of Alaska knows “It’s time to try something else” in regards to their criminal justice system and looks to ROC’s success in Texas as inspiration for reform.
“It matters not if true prison reform comes for practical reasons or for more reasons, of some combination of each.
What matters is whether or not change will happen.”
In this National Review Online article, ROC policy analyst Vikrant Reddy discusses the ruling of Saint Joseph Abbey v. Castille, a case about the unlicensed sale of a funeral casket in Louisiana, and explains why it is “a significant victory against overcriminalization and unnecessary licensing.”
Right on Crime sits down with Congressman J.C. Watts to discuss incarceration costs, mandatory minimums and why he signed onto the ROC statement of principles.
Carnuccio, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs writes: “An effective, efficient, transparent and accountable corrections system should pay restitution to victims while focusing on getting those mothers reformed and back at home with their children.
We need to start getting serious about breaking the cycle, not just throwing more money and cell bars at it. That is why I am a proud signatory of the “Right on Crime” statement of principles, along with notable conservative leaders like Edwin Meese, Chuck Colson, Pat Nolan, J.C. Watts and Jeb Bush.”
Mentally ill offenders have a tendency to cycle in and out of the criminal justice system. Some members of law enforcement see the same offenders so often they’ve begun calling them “frequent flyers.”
To reduce the high recidivism in this class of offender, Oklahoma created the Oklahoma Collaborative Mental Health Reentry Program to keep mentally ill inmates from returning to prison. The Program in part ensures that mentally ill offenders continue to take their medication once they’re back on the streets. But beyond medication, it also involves counseling and reintegration classes, as well as assistance in finding housing and food.
Part of the key to accomplishing these goals is a concerted effort by the Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health to share information on offenders so that no one—and no issue—slips through the cracks.
Early results are positive: offenders entering the program recidivate at a rate of 25.2 percent, a far cry from the 42.3 percent for a comparable prison population.
Oklahoma officials estimate about half of their prison inmates have some form of a mental illness, and have documented a 300 percent increase in psychotropic drug administration between 1998 and 2006. Thus, reductions in recidivism in mentally ill offenders not only keep the public more safe, but cut down on costs in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.
Three states considering sentencing and system reform to save their states millions while creating more effective criminal justice policies have advanced legislation to that end, and one group—the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center—is common to each effort.
The Justice Center had previously aided Texas’ criminal justice reform efforts, along with the Center for Effective Justice (which created Right on Crime). The resulting billion-dollar savings, as a result of avoided prison bed construction due to more efficient substance abuse policies, has spurred similar efforts in other states.
In Missouri, legislation is advancing that is the result of the Justice Center’s advice and research. Those bills, which involve swift and sure sanctions as in West Virginia and shock probation, debuted to strong bipartisan support in that state.
In Oklahoma, legislators in the House approved a bill which would provide supervision for ex-inmates, good-time credits for those felons which have served 85 percent of their sentence and who are approved by corrections officials, and emphasizes testing for drug abuse and mental health issues in defendants, legislation introduced after Justice Center research in that state.
In West Virginia, legislators approved increasing drug treatment programming, swift and sure parole and probation sanctions (which have proven to be more effective than standard revocations to incarceration). That bill now moves on for consideration by the full House; as Right on Crime previously noted, this legislation may only be the first step in a series of reform efforts, as the Governor recently invited the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center to advise the state on reform.
Research-based legislative efforts to make criminal justice systems more effective and efficient with taxpayer dollars are quickly becoming the trend across the United States, and West Virginia seeks to benefit from this body of knowledge as well.
For seven months, experts in Oklahoma have studied, evaluated, debated and reimagined criminal justice in that state.
The result of their work is a report released this month that is aimed at reducing violent crime, providing better post-release supervision, and controlling expensive prison growth.
The experts came together under the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, a coalition of legislators (Republican House Speaker Kris Steele co-chaired the group) and private sector leaders, which was formed in partnership with the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center and the Pew Center on the States.
Proposals from the study include requiring post-release supervision for felony offenders, increased substance abuse treatment for drug offenders in lieu of long prison sentences, and earned-time credits for offenders. The report noted the usefulness of risk assessments and the low rates at which those assessments are currently used in Oklahoma. On the front end, the group suggested hot-spot policing to better combat and respond to crime.
The projected result would be cost-savings for Oklahoma taxpayers and reduced growth in prison populations, stemming the need for expensive prison construction.
This undertaking was rooted in experience: the Justice Center and Pew led similar efforts in other states, including Texas (which led, in part, to a $2 billion savings for Texas taxpayers). In fact, Representative Steele said the success of the effort in Texas, in conjunction with Right on Crime, played a role in encouraging lawmakers to undertake reform in Oklahoma.
Going forward, the working group will ensure input from all stakeholders, including prosecutors, to ensure that the criminal justice reform effort is widely supported and comprehensive.
House Bill 2131 marks a significant step forward for the state of Oklahoma. State prisons currently operate at around 99% capacity, and 2131 proposes to reduce the rate of nonviolent incarceration. However, as a recent op-ed by House Speaker Kris Steele cautions, “[w]hile reaching this milestone is important, Oklahoma’s incarceration dilemma and all the ancillary problems associated with it cannot be solved overnight. We must do more.”
Speaker Steele wants to make sure that Oklahoma is making sure that it’s corrections department increases public safety in the most efficient way. This approach includes a strong look at better rehabilitation programs and efforts to reduce recidivism, as Right On Crime advocates.
What inspired this legislation? Speaker Steele reminisces about the story of Andrea Baker, a former drug addict. After receiving a lengthy prison sentence, she discovered an alternative supervised-rehabilitation program. Now, Andrea is drug free, and has resumed her duties as a mother to her children. To Speaker Steele, Andrea represents the archetypal nonviolent offender: a person who poses no harm to society and just needs help. Instead of punishing people like Andrea, Steele and the majority of Oklahoma’s legislature believe Oklahoma needs to help them, and in doing so, they may help solve the state’s budget and prison crises.