Keeping secret the work of the governor’s criminal justice task force breaches the public trust and harms the group’s integrity and its potential effectiveness.
Gov. Kevin Stitt created the Criminal Justice Reentry, Supervision, Treatment and Opportunity Reform (RESTORE) task force to gather various perspectives for possible changes to the criminal code, prison system, victims’ rights and court diversion program. The goal is to lower the incarceration rate, reduce recidivism and establish effective diversion programs.
This will not be an easy job, but representative government isn’t supposed to be easy.
Policy making and governing can be a messy and emotional business. The best insurance for success — and the only insurance against claims of back-door dealing — is transparency.
In an Oklahoman story, Secretary of Public Safety Chip Keating, chairman of the group, justified closing all meetings with the argument that it would allow task force members to speak openly.
“There’s a lot of different voices in different areas that people are passionate about.”
That is exactly why the public needs to see this process.
Keating said the task force will take public input through email and create subcommittees to gather information. That isn’t good enough, Secretary Keating.
The public needs to see the deliberation process: how the input is used and weighed in making choices for the state’s future.
The Oklahoma Open Meetings Act specifies “task forces or study groups” in the definition of “public body” that must comply with its rules. Stitt’s administrators say because the group is only advisory, it is exempt from the rules.
Whether that gets the Stitt administration’s decision to go secret within the letter of the law or not, it certainly violates the spirit of the law and the open government expectation of Oklahomans.
The 15-member group is already being criticized for a lack of racial diversity and rural representation. Not one member is black, though black Oklahomans are disproportionately incarcerated.
Closing the doors for these discussions only gives room for conspiracy theories and doubt. It will not help the work of task force members.
Stitt should reverse this decision so that the people can keep an eye on those who are doing the people’s work.