By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
On Sunday, January 24, members of the VOICE OKC (Voices Organized in Civic Engagement) will host a Restorative Justice Sunday presentation. The program titled “Public Safety at Risk: Fines and Fees and the Oklahoma Criminal Justice System” will be held at 3 p.m. at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 5700 N Kelley in Oklahoma City.
The VOICE Restorative Justice Action Team will share with members and the public what they have learned about fines and fees, and how an over-reliance on them not only affects former inmates and their families, but also how it negatively impacts the community’s public safety.
VOICE members will also share how they intend to address some of these issues this year, and ways that people can join them in this work.
“Debt from court, serving time, and probation requirements is a big problem in our state and city,” says Pastor Theodis Manning, co-chair of VOICE’s Restorative Justice Action Team. “I’ve seen it in my own ministry. Too many people come out wanting to change their lives for the good, but face tremendous challenges. We want to remove barriers to being productive citizens, rather than make it harder for them.”
Over 20 congregations in Oklahoma City metro area will support Restorative Justice Sunday with morning services emphasizing criminal justice reform as central to a healthy city. They will then come together for the 3:00 p.m. event.
Speakers and participants at the afternoon event will include the Rev. Dr. James A. Dorn, Senior Pastor Mt. Triumph Baptist Church of Oklahoma City; Clinton Johnson, of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church; Heather Sparks, Oklahoma Education Association member: Dan Short, founder and executive director of Mustard Seed Development Corp; and others.
“We believe that in order to have a thriving state, with healthy cities and communities, we need to be smarter both in our laws and financially in how we operate and pay for public safety,” says Sundra Flansburg, the other co-chair of VOICE’s Restorative Justice Team. “The present system is both chaotic and in many way, ineffective.”
Following the presentation, VOICE members will propose steps that congregations can take to make changes in the upcoming legislative session. This event is open to the public.
“We are having this event the Sunday following MLK Day, in part to honor the ongoing legacy of Dr. King,” said Flansburg. “We believe that our efforts in this area are very much in keeping with his work. January 24 is also the Sunday before the Oklahoma state legislature convenes for 2016, and we want our representatives to understand how serious we are about addressing this issue.”
VOICE OKC is a coalition of congregations, unions, associations, schools and non-profit groups that come together to understand the pressures faced by individuals and families in the Oklahoma City community and to work effectively within the democratic process to address those pressures.
For more information and a complete list of participating organizations, visit the VOICE OKC website.