Governor's Budget Short On Criminal Justice Reform Funding

Wednesday, February 6th 2019, 6:57 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

There’s a lot of talk about criminal justice reform at the state Capitol, but little money to back it. 

The Department of Corrections is asking the state for an additional $19.5 million for employee raises. Corrections officers start at just $13.74 an hour.

“Our staffing for our North Fork facility in Sayre is at 30 percent. We have 19 CO’s who are watching after 2,200 inmates. We must have more CO’s,” said Jessica Brown with the Department of Corrections. 

But the DOC says if it can’t offer competitive pay, it can’t draw good officers.

See Related Story: Oklahoma Department Of Corrections Asking For Employee Raises 

The governor’s proposed budget falls far short of that $72 million request, offering instead just seven million more. The Department of Corrections says it needs more than that to focus on addiction treatment and job skills training for inmates.

“We have to make a choice. Are we going to allow them to continue to be the person they are now which got them into prison or are we going to make them better citizens by teaching them a trade, by getting them off drugs and alcohol and any addiction? We believe we have that duty to make better citizens of these people,” said Brown.

The executive budget does include $11.6 million for pardon and parole, recovery and diversion programs.

“We think this is a great foundation, but it’s important that we remember that we have to build upon the monies that are designated so far,” said Kris Steele Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.

But Steele says more money is needed, especially for drug treatment. Steele says it costs $22,000 dollars per year to incarcerate non-violent offenders, and only 5,000 to treat them.

“Do we really want to continue to spend $22,000 a year for failure or would we rather pay $5,000 per year for success?” Steele asked.

Steele says that $11.6 million will go a long way toward offering drug and alcohol treatment in offenders’ own communities where they have a greater chance of success. But as more offenders are released, Steele says, more money will be needed for that treatment.