The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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December 30, 2013

Special Report: Actions by Fallin’s staff led to weakened state justice reforms

(Continued)

OKLAHOMA CITY —

A core JRI oversight group composed of state agency officials and others were to take the next steps, including working with the Council of State Governments to apply for grants, implementing the reforms and monitoring progress. Steele and Prater co-chaired the group. About $400,000 in federal grants was to pass through state agencies to be used to hire a coordinator and to train workers, such as parole officers and substance-abuse counselors, to carry out the plan.

However, “immediately we began to meet with resistance from the governor’s office,” Steele said recently. “I think as much as anything, it’s the fact that Gov. Fallin’s staff had convinced her that she had to be a tough-on-crime, lock-‘em-up and throw-away-the-key leader.” Her staff believed that supporting alternatives to prison “would be perceived as soft on crime and could hurt her politically.”

Steele said Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s and Fallin’s offices began to “slow-play” cooperation by refusing to communicate with the Council of State Governments or the JRI oversight group for long periods of time. Deadlines were missed, he said, so that eventually the council asked the JRI group if the state still wanted grants to fund the initiative. Pruitt's office was unavailable for comment.

In response, Fallin sent a letter to the Council of State Governments in October 2012 saying that the state was still supportive of the JRI.

“It was a way, I think, to appear supportive,” Steele said.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office was having doubts about the JRI oversight group, according to Mullins.

Initially, Fallin’s office did not have a seat on the JRI group, Mullins said, and the group lacked influential legislative players who could help get reform policies enacted.

“Clearly, we thought that the committee was not well-designed to be an execution committee. It was designed to be an evaluation committee,” Mullins said.

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