Path Home Shows 2012 Show Archive February 2012 Show 1208 Kris Steele Interview - We Need to Reform OK Prisons

Kris Steele Interview - We Need to Reform OK Prisons

We visit with Oklahoma's Speaker of the House, Kris Steele, about new criminal justice reforms he believes need to be approved this legislative session.
Kris Steele Interview - We Need to Reform OK Prisons

Interviewee Kris Steele

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Oklahoma State Legislature

Show Dates

Show 1205: Kris Steele Interview - We Need to Reform OK Prisons

Air date: February 19, 2012

 

Transcript

ROB MCCLENDON:  WELL FOR MUCH OF THE PAST YEAR, EXPERTS IN OKLAHOMA HAVE STUDIED, EVALUATED, DEBATED, AND RE-IMAGINED CRIMINAL JUSTICE IN THE STATE.  THE RESULT OF THAT WORK IS A REPORT RELEASED LAST MONTH AND THE FRAMEWORK OF LEGISLATION AIMED AT REDUCING VIOLENT CRIME, PROVIDING BETTER POST-RELEASE SUPERVISION, AND CONTROLLING EXPENSIVE PRISON GROWTH.  AND THE PERSON LEADING THIS CHARGE IS OKLAHOMA’S SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE KRIS STEELE.  MR SPEAKER YOU’VE MADE PRISON REFORMS AND JUSTICE REFORMS A REAL PART OF YOUR LEGISLATIVE AGENDA, WHY IS THAT?

KRIS STEELE:  WELL I HAVE AND IT’S BECAUSE I BELIEVE THAT WE CAN DO BETTER IN THAT REGARD.  I THINK ULTIMATELY EVERY OKLAHOMAN IS INTERESTED IN INCREASING PUBLIC SAFETY, REDUCING CRIME, AND MAKING BETTER USE OF OUR STATE’S RESOURCES.  AND I THINK THAT WHAT WE’RE CURRENTLY DOING IS, IS NOT NEARLY AS EFFECTIVE AS WHAT WE COULD BE DOING.  AND SO IT’S BECAUSE I’M VERY INTERESTED IN TRYING TO INCREASE PUBLIC SAFETY.

ROB:  OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS WE’VE SEEN ABOUT A 15% INCREASE IN OUR PRISON POPULATIONS AND WE’VE SPENT ABOUT 40% MORE ON OUR PRISONS; YET, WE’RE NOT SEEING A CORRESPONDING DIP IN VIOLENT CRIMES, WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU?

KRIS:  IT TELLS ME THAT WHAT WE’RE CURRENTLY DOING IS NOT EFFECTIVE, SO JUST TO REITERATE, WE’RE SPENDING MORE THAN WE EVER HAVE ON CORRECTIONS AND YET OUR VIOLENT CRIME RATE HAS REMAINED VIRTUALLY UNCHANGED.  WHAT’S SIGNIFICANT IS THAT NEARLY 40 OTHER STATES HAVE EXPERIENCED A DECREASE IN THEIR VIOLENT CRIME RATES.  NATIONALLY THE VIOLENT CRIME RATE HAS DECREASED BY ABOUT 20%, AND YET IN OKLAHOMA IT HASN’T DECREASED HARDLY AT ALL.  AND SO, EVEN WITH MORE RESOURCES BEING APPROPRIATED AND BEING SPENT, WE’RE NOT GETTING THE RESULTS THAT WE WOULD WANT OR EXPECT IN THE WAY OF PROVIDING SAFER NEIGHBORHOODS AND SAFER COMMUNITIES AND SAFER STREETS.  AND SO I BELIEVE THAT IS THE PREMISE FOR REFORM.

ROB:  DO JUSTICE REFORMS, DO THEY MEAN SPENDING LESS OR DOES IT MEAN SPENDING BETTER?

KRIS:  IT MEANS SPENDING BETTER; AND SO, I CAN JUST TELL YOU THAT WITHIN THE OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE, PUBLIC SAFETY IS A PRIORITY FROM AN APPROPRIATIONS STANDPOINT.  BUT WE WANT TO BE EFFECTIVE, WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT THE RESOURCES THAT WE’VE BEEN ENTRUSTED WITH AND THE MONEY THAT WE ARE APPROPRIATING IS ACTUALLY MAKING A TANGIBLE DIFFERENCE IN THE AREAS THAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN.  AND SO WHAT WE WANT TO DO IS BE WISE WITH OUR SPENDING; HOWEVER, WITH THE PROPOSALS THAT WE HAVE IN PLACE, IT WILL SAVE THE STATE MONEY OVER THE COURSE OF TIME AND IT WILL ALLOW US TO REINVEST THOSE SAVINGS IN AREAS THAT WE KNOW WILL WORK AND IN AREAS THAT WE KNOW ARE EFFECTIVE IN REDUCING CRIME AND INCREASING PUBLIC SAFETY.

ROB:  TYPICALLY IN CONERNS WITH STATES LIKE OKLAHOMA, ANY TYPE OF JUSTICE REFORMS CAN BE, OR OFTEN LET’S SAY, ARE OPPOSED BY PEOPLE IN YOUR OWN PARTY AS BEING SOFT ON CRIME.  DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS THAT WE CAN EXPERIENCE THAT HERE IN THE STATE?

KRIS:  OH THERE’S A CONCERN, BUT ULTIMATELY THIS PLAN IS A SMART-ON-CRIME PLAN.  AND SO, WHAT WE’VE BEEN ABLE TO DETERMINE OVER THE COURSE OF THESE LAST SEVEN MONTHS THROUGH A VERY INTENSIVE ANALYSIS PROCESS IS THAT IN OKLAHOMA, EVEN AS OUR STATE’S POPULATION HAS INCREASED, THE NUMBER OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS THAT WE HAVE ON THE GROUND HAS DECREASED.  SO WE HAVE FEWER LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS TODAY WITH A GREATER POPULATION AND THAT CAN’T BE GOOD FOR PUBLIC SAFETY.  WE WERE ALSO ABLE TO DETERMINE THAT TODAY, 51% OF THOSE WHO ARE CONVICTED OF A FELONY ARE RELEASED FROM PRISON WITHOUT ANY SORT OF SUPERVISION; 51% OF OUR CONVICTED FELONS ARE RELEASED WITH NO SUPERVISION.  AND SO WHAT THE PLAN, IN PART SUGGESTS TO DO IS TO REINVEST 40 MILLION DOLLARS OVER THE COURSE OF 10 YEARS TO LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT ENTITIES TO BE ABLE TO TARGET, REALLY THOSE HIGH AREAS OF CRIME WITHIN THEIR JURISDICTION.  WE BELIEVE THAT’S GOING TO MAKE A TANGIBLE DIFFERENCE.  IN ADDITION, THE PLAN PROPOSES THAT ANYONE CONVICTED OF A FELON, FELONY, HAS TO UNDERGO AT LEAST 9 MONTHS OF SUPERVISION POST-RELEASE.  AND AGAIN, WE BELIEVE THAT THAT’S GOOD FOR PUBLIC SAFETY AND IT’S GONNA HELP US TO REDUCE CRIME AND OUR RECIVIDISM RATE.

ROB:  CERTAINLY.  I’VE HAD NUMEROUS INMATES TELL ME OVER THE YEARS THAT DRUGS PLAY A MAJOR PART OF WHY THEY WERE BEHIND BARS, WHETHER THEY WERE CONVICTED OF A DRUG CRIME OR SOME TYPE OF OTHER EVENTS.  HOW DO YOU THINK WE BREAK THIS SEEMINGLY UNBREAKABLE CYCLE OF CRIME AND PUNISHMENT?

KRIS:  YOU ASKED A GREAT QUESTION BECAUSE ULTIMATELY WHEN WE’RE TALKING ABOUT REDUCING OUR CRIME RATE, WE’RE NOT ONLY TALKING ABOUT THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE CURRENTLY INCARCERATED, OR EVEN THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE AT RISK OF BEING INCARCERATED, WE’RE ALSO TALKING ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN.  AND IN OKLAHOMA WE KNOW THAT CHILDREN OF INCARCERATED PARENTS UNFORTUNATELY ARE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BECOME INCARCERATED AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIFE.  SO WE’RE REALLY LOOKING AT TRYING TO BREAK THAT GENERATIONAL CYCLE.  AND I THINK THAT THE WAY THAT WE DO THAT IS THROUGH MEANINGFUL PREVENTION STRATEGIES, I THINK IT’S THROUGH EFFECTIVE SUPERVISION BECAUSE SUPERVISION NOT ONLY HELPS US FROM A PUBLIC SAFETY STANDPOINT TO ENSURE THAT A PERSON WHO MAY HAVE COMMITED A CRIME AND IS BACK IN THE COMMUNITY IS DOING WHAT HE OR SHE IS SUPPOSED TO BE DOING.  BUT IT ALSO HELPS FROM A PREVENTION STANDPOINT TO ENSURE THAT THAT PERSON IS CONNECTED WITH THE RESOURCES THAT MAY BE NECESSARY FOR THAT INDIVIDUAL TO OBTAIN THE ASSISTANCE THAT THEY NEED TO GO ON AND LEAD A POSITIVE PRODUCTIVE LIFE AND BECOME A CONTRIBUTING MEMBER TO SOCIETY.  AND I THINK THAT IF WE CAN REDUCE OUR RECIVIDISM RATE THROUGH EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES ON THE FRONT-END AND THE BACK-END OF THIS EQUATION, THEN WE’RE GONNA BE MUCH BETTER OFF AS A STATE.

ROB:  ARE WE DOING ENOUGH INSIDE OUR PRISONS TO TRY TO TRANSFORM THESE TAX-USERS, IT COSTS A LOT TO KEEP ‘EM IN PRISON, TO TAXPAYERS ONCE THEY’RE OUTSIDE THE BARS?

KRIS:  GREAT QUESTION; AND ANOTHER PART OF OUR PROPOSAL REQUIRES THAT WE INCREASE OUR SUBSTANCE ABUSE SERVICES FOR THOSE, TREATMENT SERVICES FOR THOSE WHO BATTLE ADDICTION, AS WELL AS, OUR MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES.  WE CALL FOR ADDITIONAL MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS BEDS ACROSS THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA, AS WELL AS, THE ESTABLISHMENT OF WHAT WE’RE REFERRING TO AS INTERMEDIATE SANCTION FACILITIES, THAT WILL CONTAIN AN INTENSIVE TREATMENT COMPONENT FOR THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO WOULD BE BEST SERVED THROUGH SUCH SANCTIONS.

ROB:  YEAH, AND I’VE HAD A LOT OF FORMER INMATES TELL ME THE HARDEST THING THEY HAD WAS NOT TO GO BACK AND DO WHAT THEY WERE DOING.  AND ONE OF THE THINGS THAT REALLY HELPED THEM WAS FINDING A NEW SKILL.  I MEAN, IT’S HARD TO GET A JOB ONCE YOU COME OUT OF PRISON IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SPECIFIC SKILL.  WHAT ABOUT SKILLS TRAINING INSIDE A PRISON?

KRIS:  IT’S VERY, VERY IMPORTANT; IT’S AN IMPORTANT COMPONENT.  AND SO AS WE’RE ABLE TO REINVEST SOME OF OUR DOLLARS THAT WE’RE CURRENTLY APPROPRIATING ON PROGRAMS THAT ARE INEFFECTIVE, IF WE COULD REINVEST THOSE DOLLARS TO PROGRAMS THAT ARE EFFECTIVE IT’S GONNA CREATE A MUCH BETTER SITUATION.  I JUST MIGHT SIGHT THE STATE OF TEXAS AS AN EXAMPLE, 5 YEARS AGO THEY WERE IN A VERY SIMILAR SITUATION AS WE ARE TODAY, THEY WERE LOOKING AT NEEDING TO BUILD AN ADDITIONAL 17,000 BEDS, PRISON BEDS, TO MAINTAIN THEIR CURRENT TREND, THE CURRENT TREND THAT THEY WERE ON IN 2007.  THEY UNDERWENT THIS JUSTICE REINVESTMENT INITIATIVE AND IMPLEMENTED THE REFORMS THAT CAME OUT OF THEIR PROCESS AND IN 5 YEARS THEY’VE BEEN ABLE TO SAVE OVER 2 BILLION DOLLARS IN INCARCERATION COSTS AND REINVEST A PORTION OF THAT MONEY INTO PROGRAMS THAT ARE EFFECTIVE.  AND TODAY, THEIR VIOLENT CRIME RATE IS AS LOW AS IT’S BEEN IN 30 YEARS; AND FOR THE FIRST TIME IN STATE HISTORY, THEY ACTUALLY CLOSED A STATE PRISON.

ROB:  WELL SPEAKER STEELE, WE CERTAINLY THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME AND WE WILL CERTAINLY BE WATCHING AS THIS LEGISLATION MAKES ITS WAY THROUGH SESSION.

KRIS:  THANK YOU SO MUCH.