House Bill 3052 was signed into law by the governor today. This bill provides sweeping changes to the Oklahoma Corrections process.
A sour point is that the law develops "intermediary revocation facilities" for nonviolent offenders who violate conditions of probation or parole. Technical violations like missing a meeting with a parole officer will be punished with up to six months of internment in what is essentially a jail. This isn't reforming the way Oklahoma punishes technical violations; it's renaming it. A truly smart reform would have been to use alternatives to incarceration to address technical violations.
Department of Corrections (DOC) does not have funds to build new institutions that would serve as intermediate revocation facilities, but DOC Director Justin Jones said they plan to designate beds at community correction facilities to fill this role. Jones said the difficulty will be providing “intensive programmatic services” that the bill calls for at these facilities, since the department does not have resources to expand already overburdened mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence counseling and treatment programs.
Jones said drug court violators in Oklahoma currently serve an average of three years, so an alternative sentence of 6 months would help reduce incarceration if it was widely adopted. However, the impact depends on the cooperation of Oklahoma judges and district attorneys, because the law makes the sentence a new option for the courts, not a mandate. Jones gave the example of a law passed in the 1980s that provided an option for weekend and nighttime incarceration. The option is still on the books but has been used rarely if at all.
This is still a step in the right direction but there is much more work to be done with Oklahoma Criminal Justice reforms. As mentioned in a previous post, Oklahoma’s prisons are constantly at near full capacity. The legislature must continue to work on real crime prevention to stop the influx of prisoners before they start. Part of the change may need to include a review of the lengths and types of sentences for non-violent first time offenders.
Another important issue is that families need to address the actions of loved ones with honesty and respect in order to change behaviors such as drug abuse, theft and other non-violent crimes. A positive relationship between juvenile and adult arrest is confirmed in several studies of adult crime, indicating that juvenile delinquency is the most common pathway to adult criminality. Passing laws, changing laws and easing sentencing does not address the root of the problem- behavior. Parents, teachers, counselors, other family and friends need to care enough about a child’s future to intervene if negative behavior begins as a youth to stop the child from proceeding adult criminal behavior.