Foster Parents Concerned About Criminal Justice Reform Package

Tuesday, April 23rd 2019, 7:23 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

A series of criminal justice reform bills are expected to be heard in the state legislature this week, designed to reduce the Oklahoma’s prison population. But not everyone is on board. 

The criminal justice reform bills would change the state’s cash bail system and make a new law reducing the penalties for non-violent offenders retroactive.

Becky Word of Yukon has a problem with that. “We keep saying that people should be released for non-violent offenses. Drugs and other things can fuel these situations that make people violent. There’s way more situations that we need to be looking at than just saying non-violent offenders,” she said.

Word speaks from experience. Her then 2-year-old son Joey, who she was fostering at the time, had an unsupervised visit with his biological mother. Word believes the mother, who has a long drug history but is not considered violent, poisoned the child with a caustic liquid, destroying his esophagus and part of his stomach. Joey’s four-year recovery has been a hard one.

“He’s had a stroke, he’s had to have open heart surgery he had to have. Because of a dead piece of colon in his esophagus, they’ve had to do a sternotomy on him,” said Word.

Backers of criminal justice reform say non-violent offenders will be considered on a case by case basis.

“There is nothing in any of these bills that would indicate that we are simply opening up the doors and letting out inmates. That is not happening,” said Andrew Speno with the group Right on Crime.

“If the governor initiated a commutation program through these people, it could be done through the pardon and parole office. And those have very specific checks and balances and oversight and accountability in that process, so that dangerous people are not let out,” Speno continued.

Word says she just worries that labeling someone nonviolent doesn’t mean they are.

“You’re not really protecting the whole community. You’re protecting people that have been accused and may or may not have the potential to get out on the streets and harm others,” said Word.

Word is also a bail bondsman, so she says she has seen first-hand how drug use can lead to violent behavior.