Smart-on-crime

The Legislature’s first moves to address the state’s retributive criminal sentencing laws have helped slow the growth of the state’s prison population, but not bend it back to an acceptable pace. With a higher percentage of the state’s population incarcerated than any place on Earth and more than $1 billion in funding needed to maintain the current prison population, it’s obvious that Oklahoma’s fetish with incarceration isn’t making us any safer, but it is making us poorer. As a first step, State Question 780 should be made retroactive. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

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.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.