In his last year in office(2012), former Oklahoma Speaker of the House Kris Steele, (R-Shawnee), embraced the justice reinvestment plan and authored HB #2131 which was designed to make the criminal justice system more efficient and cost-effective. The bill was signed into law in May. At the time of the bill’s signing, Steele said, “It’s (HB #2131) increasing public safety and it's being more responsible with taxpayers' resources.” Steele’s goal was to decrease the number of non-violent offenders in Oklahoma prisons by implementing a system that provided alternate punishment to incarceration.
The JRI plan starts by establishing a bipartisan working group of elected and appointed officials to work with criminal justice policy experts. This working group then consults with prosecutors, public defenders, judges and corrections and law enforcement officials to work through two phases in a 2-3 year period. In Phase 1, they analyze data, develop policy options, and adopt new policies. In Phase 2, they implement the new policies and evaluate how well they are working.
At the time, JRI was lauded as a great idea by The Oklahoman. In an editorial, they wrote, “This proposal also would apply the brakes to the runaway train that is Oklahoma's prison population. Instead of growing by more than 2,500 to a total of 29,720 in fiscal year 2021, as is projected, the inmate population would increase by about 600 during that time. Beginning in fiscal year 2014, the slower-growing prison population would save the state $13 million annually.”
After the establishment of the JRI working group, co chaired by Steele and Oklahoma County DA David Prater, nineteen total members were appointed to start the process. The Working Group was supposed to be the supreme authority in the implementation of JRI, but evidently that is not the case.
Last week, during the Working Group’s meeting, Governor Mary Fallin’s Chief Counsel Steve Mullins called the Working Group an ad hoc committee that didn’t have the authority to implement JRI. After a heated exchange, Steele and Prater resigned.
On a personal note, the Stephens County Republican Party lost a true friend last week when Ed Hicks died. Ed was unapologeticly Republican, but more importantly he was a patriot. I remember him giving me a picture of his grandchildren years ago when I was running for the State Senate and telling me that was why he was so passionate about his country. Ed put his money where his mouth was when it came to politics. I will miss him.