OKLAHOMA CITY — Note: Oklahoma Watch is offering this detailed, 4,500-word story on events that led up to changes in the state’s most significant justice-reform effort in recent history. With Oklahoma having some of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, hopes soared in 2012 among leaders and residents when the Justice Reinvestment Initiative was signed into law. Others viewed it skeptically. Newly released records reveal what happened in state government that led to a weakening of the original plan for implementing the reforms.
Behind-the-scenes moves by Gov. Mary Fallin’s senior staff members helped lead to a severe weakening of a program designed to cut the state’s high incarceration rates and save taxpayers more than $200 million over a decade, according to interviews and records obtained by Oklahoma Watch.
The efforts by the governor’s staff, assisted by legislative leaders, to take control of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative took place during periods when staff members met with representatives of private prison companies, which stood to gain or lose depending on how the initiative was implemented, emails and logs of visitors to Fallin’s offices show.
During that time, private-prison company representatives also made donations to Fallin’s 2014 campaign as well as to legislators, Oklahoma Ethics Commission records indicate.
Steve Mullins, Fallin’s general counsel, said private prison groups and lobbyists played no role in the approach that he and other staff members took in regard to the initiative.
“I know for a fact I’ve never recommended a private prison as a JRI solution, so I know that it wouldn’t have influenced anything because it didn’t influence my recommendations,” Mullins said.
Mullins also pointed out that the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, or JRI, did not die. Several reforms, such as public-safety grants, received state funding and have been implemented.