Kris Steele - Incarcerate or Rehabilitate?
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Show 1712: Kris Steele - Incarcerate or Rehabilitate?
Air Date: March 19, 2017
Rob McClendon: Is it fair to say that we may be too punitive to those that we release out of prison?
Kris Steele: I think the answer is this: When we consider justice reinvestment initiatives, the concept behind that is instead of spending all of our money on individuals who aren’t a threat to public safety, we have to be able to differentiate between the individual who is a threat or a danger to society and needs to be incapacitated versus the individual who would do better under direct supervision in the community with treatment, with intervention, with education, with job training, things of that nature. And so what we do is ultimately invest in community-based resources to help individuals who have stumbled and who have issues that need to be addressed but probably don’t need to be incarcerated. And in the process we can not only save money, but we can produce much better outcomes. Other states have done it and done it quite well.
Rob: So when I look at our incarceration numbers here in Oklahoma, in so many ways we’re leading the nation. And I can’t believe that somehow Oklahomans are worse than the rest of the country. So what do you know from either your time in the legislature or the work that you’ve been doing about justice reform?
Steele: Well, you’re exactly right. And what I know is this, that as we talk here this afternoon our prisons stand at 119 percent capacity. We’re well over capacity based on the number of people who are currently incarcerated. I also know that Oklahoma unfortunately leads the nation in female incarceration. We incarcerate female offenders at over twice the national average per capita. And in addition to that, the last time I checked somewhere around 74 percent of all the female offenders who are currently incarcerated are considered to be low-risk, nonviolent offenders. I think that’s very significant because again, if a person truly poses a danger to the community or a threat to public safety, that individual should be incarcerated. But we need to make sure that we have the resources and the space available to incarcerate those folks and not just the individuals who we’re mad at or the individuals who have a problem that could be better served within the community. It’s a real complicated dynamic because not only is it affecting the men and women, the nonviolent men and women who are currently incarcerated and disrupting their lives, it’s also affecting their families. There are statistics that would indicate that children of incarcerated parents are seven times more likely to become incarcerated themselves. And so inadvertently and unintentionally we’ve created a generational curse if you will and shooting ourselves in the foot when it comes to the next generation of individuals. It’s not the child’s fault that mom or dad has stumbled and has an issue that needs to be addressed. And again, I’m a big believer that there ought to be consequences when a person breaks the law, but appropriate consequences. And I think we have to consider that.
Rob: Now, when we return, we’ll look at how TEEM is trying to break that cycle of incarceration.