Prison wire

Razor wire tops a fence at the North Fork Correctional Center in Sayre. The Oklahoman file

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt’s criminal justice reform task force is recommending the creation of an accredited seminary or Bible college program within the state corrections system.

Created in May by Stitt’s executive order, the Criminal Justice Reentry, Supervision, Treatment and Opportunity Reform, or RESTORE, Task Force issued its initial recommendations on Friday.

It also asked for a one-year extension to finish its work, saying it planned to issue recommendations throughout the coming year as they are finalized.

The Bible program would be funded through private donations, according to the report.

“It is recommended that both a male and female facility be selected for this purpose, preferring facilities with the hardest populations and where inmates have longer sentences,” according to the report. “Similar programs in other states have successfully trained inmates to be counselors to their fellow inmates, which has in turn decreased violent crime and given inmates something positive to work towards within the prisons.”

The panel also recommended the creation of a chief cultural officer within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, saying the post has proven to be critical in the private sector.

The panel recommended using state agencies and public-private partners to increase the use of technology in rural counties to connect individuals with mental health professionals, supervision and probation services.

The report says transition fairs should be permanent to help those leaving prison and jail find resources.

“It is our recommendations inmates will leave prison with at minimum a state-issued ID, job prospects and a place to live,” the report says.

Planning for release should begin no later than the day a person enters the prison system, the report says.

The panel also recommended more study of alternatives to monetary bail. “It is also recommended that real-time tracking technology suitable for this purpose be developed and deployed as an alternative to bail for accused individuals lacking the necessary monetary resources to post bail or bond out of jail,” the report says.

The panel and its subcommittees met more than 37 times and heard from more than 95 individuals, ranging from experts to those affected by the criminal justice system, according to the report.

“From this report, two things are abundantly clear,” Stitt said. “First, we must continue to focus on cultural change in the prisons, where state government is viewing an inmate as a person and creating a plan to ensure they return as a productive and contributing member of our society.

“Second, we must implement bold reforms to our criminal code in order to provide more clarity around sentencing.

“I am committed to taking the necessary steps to move the needle and implement these reforms during my time in office.”

Ahniwake Rose, Oklahoma Policy Institute executive director, said that while the report identifies some positive ideas, it lacks bold and specific legislative changes to fully match the scale of Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis.

Kris Steele, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform executive director, said that “while we applaud the RESTORE task force for recommending changes to the state’s unfair and outdated cash bail system and failed reentry policies and practices, we believe that this crisis is too urgent for further delay.

“We are moving forward with advancing evidence-based proposals to increase public safety, save taxpayer dollars and keep families together for the benefit of our state.

“Reforms that confront the main drivers of mass incarceration are critical to improve ineffective criminal justice policies,” Steele continued. “This includes State Question 805, which will end sentence enhancements for nonviolent offenses and address one of the key causes of our incarceration crisis.”

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Barbara Hoberock



Twitter: @bhoberock

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