OKLAHOMA CITY —
But the JRI’s biggest supporters say the program was left in near shambles after the governor’s office delayed carrying it out, reversed itself on seeking a federal grant and orchestrated a move to keep former House Speaker Kris Steele, who led the initiative effort, from leading a group overseeing implementation.
Steele said he believes a political desire to appear “tough on crime” and pressure from private prison groups ultimately curbed any serious reform efforts.
Throughout the JRI process, Fallin has expressed support for the program and its goals.
The goal of the JRI was to steer nonviolent offenders away from prison, lowering the state’s incarceration rates and costs and using the savings to pay for public-safety efforts, such as law-enforcement grants.
But the planned funding dropped, sentencing alternatives aren’t being carried out, fewer pardon and parole officers to monitor offenders were added, and crime-reduction strategy training for local law enforcement agencies didn't occur. The initiative also has no official coordinator.
Renewed focus on the JRI comes after Fallin’s office released in late November more than 8,000 documents and emails related to the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The records had been sought by various news media under the Open Records Act. The JRI also continues to draw attention because Oklahoma’s prisons remain overcrowded, with the population rising to more than 26,700 last week.
Among the key actions revealed in the emails and visitor logs of the governor’s office:
• In January 2013, after failing to get Fallin’s preferred candidate named as head of the JRI oversight board, Rebecca Frazier, then Fallin’s assistant general counsel, emailed Mullins pointing out that if the state rejected a federal grant for the JRI, the coordinator job wouldn’t be funded. Mullins affirmed a “new tack” of rejecting federal funds. Previously, Fallin had supported obtaining the federal grant to fully implement the initiative.