Former Okla. House Speaker Kris Steele Questions Support of Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Article excerpt

A planned meeting of the working group for the Justice Reinvestment Initiative could become a discussion about the fate of the statewide initiative, The Journal Record has learned.

Scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the meeting is listed as an information session and an update on the initiative's funding request. However, the session could become a discussion about the fate of the program, the former lawmaker who created the initiative said.

Former House Speaker Kris Steele said he had several questions that need answers about the JRI and its implementation. Steele said it appeared that Republican Gov. Mary Fallin had backed away from supporting the program.

Created by Steele in 2012, the program was designed to slow down the state's incarceration rate, earmark funds for drug and alcohol treatment of nonviolent offenders and increase oversight of those prisoners who were being released.

The program, based on work done by the Council of State Governments, was endorsed by Republican leaders of both houses of the Legislature and Fallin's office. Fallin signed legislation creating the initiative.

Steele said the JRI was designed to reduce the state's prison population by 2,000 over the next decade. Reducing the prison population would save about $200 million, with about $110 million of the savings shifted to anti-crime efforts.

However, not long after Steele left office in 2012, Fallin's office announced that it would no longer seek the federal funds to implement the program. Fallin's staff announced the policy change in a Feb. 21 letter to members of the JRI's working group.

On Tuesday, Steele, chairman of the working group, said he was frustrated by the change. He said attendance at the working group meetings has been spotty, at best.

"We put together a group of experts from across the state that had a ton of experience and education," he said. "But I don't think it's fair or professional to ask these people to give up their time and energy and not carry through."

He said the fact that the representatives of several executive agencies were not attending meetings concerned him.

"It's not a good sign, that the governor seems to be backing off of her support," he said. …