By Darla Shelden
Soon after Brian Maughan became District 2 Oklahoma County Commissioner, he saw a need to combine public and private resources to help improve neglected and deteriorated neighborhoods. Working closely with court officials, Maughan created SHINE – Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere, a program that puts low-level offenders and student volunteers to work on community service projects.
“This was really the brainchild of public defender Bob Ravitz,” said Maughan. “His concept was to do this with graffiti removal, but it soon became evident to me that this could be a much larger opportunity. I expanded it into schools, parks and neighborhoods.”
Under close supervision, workers clear brush, pick up litter, remove graffiti and restore public property including parks and schoolyards to improve the quality of life in local neighborhoods. With the cooperation of District Attorney David Prater, Bob Ravitz and Oklahoma County judges, the program allows sentencing of low-level non-violent offenders to work on community service crews as a way to discharge their obligation to society.
“Those who are convicted of a felony pay a minimum fine of $25 up to $250, per the judges discretion. The money is retained in that county. So it’s the offenders themselves who are paying for much of this program. The object is to alleviate their time in jail.” Maughan said he expects the fines generate from $175,000 to $200,000 per year in Oklahoma County. The money is put in a community service fund to pay for equipment, supplies and personnel who supervise crews.
The work is done at no cost to taxpayers, while relieving the Oklahoma County jail’s overcrowding problems. SHINE has reduced jail headcounts by some 80 per day, at an annual savings to the County of around $1.5 million.
“We’ve had a pretty good success rate of getting jobs for numerous individuals enrolled in our program, said Maughan. “In addition to keeping them out of jail, it’s keeping their kids from going into foster care and overloading DHS. It also allows them to keep their existing job because they’re given several months to finish their hours of community service.”
“Right now we’re focusing on one of the largest elementary schools in Oklahoma City, Hayes Elementary, located near Crossroads, and we’ve collaborated with school board member Ron Milligan and City Councilman Pete White,” said Maughan.
“The Shine program is one of the best examples of the impact of cooperation between the many levels of government that I know of,” said City Councilman Pete White. “The City has been involved in this idea almost from its inception, providing much needed financial support. Many of the projects have involved the City, the County and OKC Public Schools. It is truly a joint effort that provides value to the community.”
That work adds additional savings to local government and school systems that would have had to pay workers to perform the tasks done by SHINE crews.
“It costs between $45 and $50 a day to keep one inmate in a county or city jail,” Maughan said. “Under SHINE, we save that money while we impress on these offenders that their actions still have consequences. We work SHINE crews hard, and the feedback we have received is that many of those sentenced to community service have a sense of accomplishment they would not have gotten from just sitting in jail. They are learning a lesson and performing valuable services at the same time.”
“Governor Fallin signed our bill in May and it will fund the program permanently, not only for us, but it makes funding available for all 77 counties,” said Maughan. “So if the commissioners elect to implement this program in their county they may do so.” Chesapeake Energy, the City of Oklahoma City, and the Oklahoma County Housing Authority are also financial partners with the SHINE program.
The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Gary Banz and Sen. David Holt, was named the Safari McDoulett Community Service Act in honor of an Oklahoma County employee who worked closely with SHINE. McDoulett was tragically killed in an automobile accident last February.
In 2011, McDoulett urged Maughan to expand the SHINE concept to involve young people interested in volunteerism.
“We had so many young people volunteering to build on the progress that the offender program was doing, Safari convinced me that we needed to launch Students for SHINE, so this was her baby. It took the offender program 18 months to clear 100,000 hours, and it took the SHINE Students 8 months to do so. They are the rock stars.”
The SHINE for Students program awards a certificate and a cord to be worn at graduation for any high school or college student who contributes at least 100 hours of volunteer community service.
“The students get the red white and blue cord, but more importantly they get a certificate from their county commissioner that they did this time to give back to their county,” said Maughan. “A lot of employers are telling me that’s what they’re looking for as they gaze across piles of resumes. This work speaks to their character.”
On May 31st SHINE for Students had logged more than 250,000 hours working on projects throughout the city.
“It’s been a tribute to Safari that students have chosen to do this work in her honor. Over 50 SHINE students got together and decided to clean up Capitol Hill Main Street planting flowerbeds from Walker to Shields,” said Maughan. “They put up a Memorial Garden to honor her. This program is a tremendous legacy to her.”