by Joe Dorman
Like many of you, I have grown tired of the constant attacks on candidates and public officials. I want to take a different approach and say something nice about my former opponent, Mary Fallin.
I empathize with Governor Fallin on how bad things are at the State Capitol. Early press has covered horrible legislative ideas, even though most will not make it past the committee process.
A depressed economy also creates enormous strains. I served as a legislator during two previous economic downturns and can attest how tough it will be to prioritize worthy programs with limited dollars.
I am not going to say it is not completely the fault of current policymakers, as much can be attributed to various tax cuts and policy decisions. There should be the realization by the public that Republicans constantly campaign on “right-sizing” or “downsizing” government. One could argue they are getting exactly what was promised.
While I do disagree with several policy suggestions presented in the State of the State on February 1, I compliment Governor Fallin for taking what I believe is the right path with corrections reforms for Oklahoma. Several suggestions were put forth challenging the legislature to be smarter on delivering punishments.
Oklahoma politicians often take a “tough on crime” stance as it is popular with the voters. Look back to the famous Willie Horton commercial used against Mike Dukakis as a perfect example. It has been almost impossible for legislators to authorize alternative forms of incarceration or punishments. Alternatively, adding on additional felonies, cash penalties and longer stays behind bars has increased the cost of public safety while helping many remain elected.
Governor Fallin outlined several ideas reminiscent of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a program championed by former House Speaker Kris Steele. These reforms were passed but never adequately funded or implemented by the following legislatures.
Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate for women and we rank third for men. Incarceration rates are currently at roughly 119 percent of capacity for our prisons, but staffing levels are well below 60 percent for the employees running the facilities.
You cannot tell me that the people in our state are so much worse than all the other states.
Many problems rest with the systems in place. Many felons lose their professional licenses and are unable to find work. There is also a high percentage who do not have a proper education or can function in normal society once released. Many return to a life of crime, as it is almost impossible for them to adapt outside the walls to a normal life. This, as well as so much more, needs to be reviewed and accountable alternatives implemented.
An honest discussion on a smarter way to deal with corrections is long overdue. I applaud Governor Fallin for placing a priority on this topic and wish her well on responsible, substantive and significant improvements within the system. Now, if we can get the legislature to play nice….
Editor’s Note: An occasional commentator for The City Sentinel, Joe Dorman served House District 65 as a State Representative for 12 years and was the 2014 Democratic nominee for Governor of Oklahoma. Currently he is the Community Outreach Director for Heart Mobile and a member of the Rush Springs Town Council.