by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin’s legal counsel has informed the Council of State Governments (CSG) that Oklahoma will rebuff anticipated federal funds for implementation of criminal justice reform legislation passed in recent years.
Fallin supported legislative passage of the 2011-2012 “justice reinvestment” measures, designed to shift Oklahoma away from incarceration of non-violent offenders and toward alternatives to imprisonment.
The program to move Oklahoma away from its “first-in-the-nation” levels of imprisonment was modeled in part on successful efforts in Texas, and advocated by the national “Right on Crime” group based in the Lone Star State .
After the governor signed the historic legislation, her office joined a process to secure several hundred thousand dollars for the state, in the form of one-time money from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. That effort was coordinated through the Council of State Governments, to finance training for law enforcement and criminal justice system personnel.
In a reversal, Fallin’s attorney last week informed members of a group working on implementation of the new laws that she will forego the assistance.
CapitolBeatOK and Watchdog.org obtained, and provided to The City Sentinel, the correspondence from members of the group of officials who have worked on implementation of the legislation since last summer.
At the moment, there is no money in the state pipeline to implement the new law, although the governor may be seeking additional appropriations to replace the federal assistance she has rebuffed after initially asking for assistance.
In a Feb. 21 letter copied to members of the Oklahoma Justice Reinvestment Core Work Group, Rebecca R. Frazier, deputy general counsel for Gov. Fallin, informed Elizabeth Lyon, state initiatives program director for CSG, “(I)t has been determined that the need for extensive additional financial support will not be needed to fund training efforts to implement Oklahoma’s Justice Reform and Reinvestment initiative.
“For example, due to the excellent leadership by Oklahoma’s Attorney General and the District Attorney’s Council, it was determined that these state partners would be able to train for full implementation using available resources.
“Due to the apparent need for only modest financial resources to achieve appropriate competence for full implementation of Oklahoma’s Justice Reform and Reinvestment initiative the Governor would prefer to pay for executive branch training needs out of state budget assets. Please remove the requests for funding for the Department of Mental Health and Department of Corrections. Oklahoma will self-fund those important training programs.”
In her Feb. 21 letter to Lyon, Frazier recalled that “in October 2012, in anticipation of the need for extensive additional financial support to fund training for multiple state entities to insure full implement the Justice Reform and Reinvestment initiative, Governor Fallin wrote to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) requesting favorable consideration of an expected funding request by the Council of State Governments.”
Lyon had written members of the “core work group” – including Frazier – on Feb. 20 detailing the process she had assisted, intended to model state policies on “the best practices for policy implementation to increase public safety and to best position Oklahoma for successful implementation.”
Lyon noted in her Feb. 20 letter that the governor’s office had provided initial approval for the grant submission to CSG on Jan. 14.