Transition Fair

Inmates listen to information before they speak with a nonprofit organization during a Transition Fair at Kate Barnard Correctional Center in Oklahoma City on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. The event is part of dozens across the state featuring representatives from area nonprofits, connecting inmates nearing release or up for commutation due to HB 1269 with services to re-integrate successfully into society after prison. CHRIS LANDSBERGER/The Oklahoman

After a year of work behind closed doors, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s criminal justice task force has produced a disappointing set of recommendations that doesn’t represent sufficient progress on the issue and asks for another year to look at critical elements.

This isn’t the time for more task force studying. The state has done plenty of that.

Collecting dust somewhere is the 3-year-old report of the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force. It’s a comprehensive report with 27 specific, data-driven recommendations projected to save $1.9 billion over 10 years and reduce the state prison population by 7%.

Some of its most important, game-changing proposals are still pending meaningful action. So far, the biggest step forward in state criminal justice reform came from the 2016 statewide vote on State Question 780 to reclassify some minor drug and property offenses.

The task force’s most significant recommendations — an accredited Bible college behind bars and a new chief cultural officer to better prepare inmates for release — are potentially good ideas.

We are not against faith-based programs in prison or doing a better job making sure people are ready for the streets. We note that of the few programs available to Oklahoma prisoners, some of the most effective are the work of faith-based groups.

But the task force’s relatively small initiatives concentrate on preparing prisoners for release, not on fixing the broken system. Reforming the criminal justice system requires something different — statutory changes designed to put fewer people behind bars in the first place.

Oklahomans have waited long enough. It’s time for concrete, evidence-based measures to reduce our bulging prisons in a safe and effective manner.

That means bail reform, structural changes to criminal sentencing, alternative courts, mental health resources, education opportunities and job training.

We have no idea how much any of those ideas were seriously considered by the task force, which kept its meetings secret.

We do know that the time for study and talk is over. Credible reforms have been studied and presented and are ready for action. We look to Gov. Stitt to push a substantial agenda of real reform in next year’s legislative session.


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