Lawmakers commit to funding treatment and rehabilitation
The Oklahoma state government has never honored the terms of two groundbreaking criminal justice reform measures that voters approved in 2016.
State Question 780 reduced many nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors in an effort to reduce the state’s incarceration rates.
The second initiative, State Question 781, directed savings from putting fewer people in jail to a fund for “community rehabilitation programs.”
After years of wrangling over a formula to determine what those savings were, the Office of Management and Business Services says $70 million should have gone into the SQ 781 fund in recent years.
But that might change in the next session. On Monday, the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee spent the day on interim studies aimed at putting in place legislation to fully implement SQ 781.
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Another interim study day, by another committee, is scheduled for Wednesday.
“I voted ‘no’ on this state matter, (but) the people’s vote said, ‘It’s going to be done,'” the president of criminal justice and corrections reform said Monday, JJ Humphrey, R-Lane.
“We will move forward. … We introduced a bill last year, but we’re going to introduce a better one this year … trying to create statewide treatment centers that could serve all parts of the state that would be diversions for incarceration,” Humphrey said.
Committee members heard Monday morning from experts on Oklahoma state’s treatment, supervision and diversion programs. In the afternoon, they were briefed on the challenges of collecting comprehensive and reliable data on which to base decisions about these programs.
“At the end of the day, we’re all guessing because we don’t really have facts,” said Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa, who led the afternoon session.
The problem is that while SQ 780 has helped keep thousands of Oklahomans out of jail, the failure to implement SQ 781 means they are being released without the rehabilitation and oversight that was supposed to keep them out. to reoffend.
The situation is also putting pressure on county jails, which find themselves housing misdemeanor offenders who would previously have been charged with crimes and become the responsibility of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
“These are the type of people that we could actually turn away from the system if we had a program, but because of the way we’ve structured everything, we have nothing to do with these people anymore. We run them crime after crime after crime,” Humphrey said.
“You’re not going to kick meth on your own. You just aren’t,” said Amanda Marsee, a Western Oklahoma district attorney.
Damion Shade, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, said the confluence of surplus revenue and public will has given the state a rare opportunity.
“Oklahoma doesn’t exactly have an incarceration crisis,” Shade said. “It’s really more accurate to say that we have a mental health crisis that we’ve converted into an incarceration crisis.”
Shade said two-thirds of Oklahomans who need mental health treatment don’t have access to it, a share that could represent as many as 500,000 people.
“Investments in treatment are cheaper, safer and more effective in reducing crime than incarceration,” Shade said.
Almost everyone who spoke on Monday said the type of policy envisioned by SQs 780 and 781 will require more people – many more people – for supervision, treatment, drug courts. It will also require more money for technology.
During the afternoon session, representatives from law enforcement, prosecutors, researchers and court officials explained the difficulty of obtaining the data that Blancett said is needed to develop effective programs. .
The largest county jails in the state use different prisoner management systems than others. Same with district attorneys’ offices. Same with the courts.
This means that most data must be entered manually if and when it is transferred from one to the other.
Nonetheless, Humphrey said the legislature has an obligation to fulfill the task of providing safe and effective alternatives to incarceration.
“That’s what the people of Oklahoma wanted,” he said. “That’s what they wanted.”