Thursday, October 20, 2011

Despite Spending Increase, Crime Rate Troubling

From The Speaker's Office ~ Oklahoma has significantly increased spending on its criminal justice system, but the state’s violent crime rate has decreased far less than it has nationwide, according to an analysis conducted as part of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

The analysis projects Oklahoma’s prison population will increase 11.5 percent in the next decade, which presents significant challenges for a system already operating at capacity.

The analysis also shows supervision of felony offenders is declining, leading to fewer offenders being supervised after release, which results in unacceptable recidivism rates.

House Speaker Kris Steele and the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative Working Group unveiled preliminary findings from the analysis this week at town hall meetings in Lawton, Enid and Muskogee. The analysis has focused on violent crime trends, current offender supervision policies and inmate populations. Among the key findings:

· Between 2000 and 2010, Oklahoma’s prison population increased 15 percent and its corrections spending rose 41 percent, but the state’s violent crime rate decreased only 4 percent as the nation’s violent crime rate fell 20 percent.

· Law enforcement officers per capita have decreased in three of the state’s four major cities, where most crime occurs;

· State law hinders post-prison supervision of certain felony offenders, including some who are high-risk;

· Last year, 51 percent of felony offenders released from prison were released unsupervised. The number of felony offenders released unsupervised has risen 28 percent since 2005.

· 53 percent of all felony offenders released in 2007 were rearrested within three years.

“Our criminal justice system is at a crossroads,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “Business as usual has proven to be incredibly costly and ineffective. Oklahoma can no longer spend and build its way out of this problem. To get safer, we must get smarter, which is what the Justice Reinvestment Initiative is all about.”
More than a dozen states, including Texas, Kansas and Ohio, have successfully used the Justice Reinvestment Initiative to increase public safety by reallocating resources so serious public safety threats can be adequately addressed and recidivism can be reduced.

At the town hall meetings, a national criminal justice expert said Oklahoma has a great chance to get ahead of the challenges identified by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

“Oklahoma faces serious challenges, but it’s not too late to address them,” said Marshall Clement, Justice Reinvestment Project Director with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which has been in Oklahoma for the past several months analyzing the state’s criminal justice system. “You have less of a police presence, but more inmates, and more of those inmates are being released without supervision. You have spent more and more, but see just as much crime, and much of that crime is violent.”

Governor Fallin, Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, Steele and other state leaders in June announced the kickoff of Oklahoma’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Since then, a diverse, bipartisan, 20-member working group comprised of key state leaders and criminal justice stakeholders has been working with the Council of State Governments Justice Center on an in-depth analysis of the state’s criminal justice system.

This week’s town hall meetings were opportunities to inform and seek input from citizens. The working group will now begin transitioning from the analysis phase to the policy development phase of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Analysis will continue as working group members begin developing policies to consider next legislative session.

“The analysis so far shows Oklahoma has an opportunity to make major improvements to its criminal justice system in ways that better protect the public,” Steele said. “Specifically, it appears we need to do a better job of preventing repeat offenses. We must do more on the front end rather than after the fact. We have been pleased to learn there are proven, evidence-based ways to do this that we will now begin exploring.”

Steele, who guided landmark corrections reform legislation into law last session, said Oklahoma’s criminal justice system cannot continue on its current path.

As an example of why, Steele and Clement cited the corrections crisis in California, where officials neglected prison overcrowding and other corrections issues for years until federal officials assumed control of prison medical operations and a state court ordered 40,000 inmates released from state prisons, which had reached 196 percent capacity.

“Oklahoma simply cannot afford to lose control of its criminal justice system, as California has. The sky isn’t falling here yet, but it could be soon if we don’t get serious about doing things differently,” said Steele, who is co-chairman of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative Working Group. “We know the challenges Oklahoma faces and I look forward to finding ways to address those challenges in the coming months.”

The working group is expected to unveil policy recommendations before the legislative session begins in February.

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