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How Conservative Governor Cut Prisoner Totals, Boosted Rehab


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Public safety and criminal justice reform are not mutually exclusive, says Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.


Oklahoma has not been regarded as a progressive state on criminal justice. Stitt, a Republican fiscal conservative, vows to focus his criminal justice policy "on comprehensive, data-driven measures," "adding, "We can prosecute those who break the law, but also make sure that once they’ve served their time, they can rejoin society,".


Last week, Stitt was chosen to give a keynote address to a "National Summit To Advance States' Criminal Justice Priorities." The meeting in Atlanta attracted 420 representatives from 49 states and the Virgin Islands. It was sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance with several other organizations, including Pew Charitable Trusts, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, Arnold Ventures, the Criminal Justice Institute and CNA.


Stitt said that when he took office in 2019, his state was "dead last" among the 50 states in its incarceration rate. He said his programs have helped raise Oklahoma to number 40 on the national list.


The state's progress has included a 12% decrease in reported violent crime, a 13% drop in non-violent crime, a 25% fall in recidivism and a 20% decrease in the incarceration rate.


Stitt comes from a business background, running a large mortgage firm in Tulsa.


He told the conference, "I wanted to make Oklahoma to be a hope-centered state, so I worked to change

the culture and emphasize that people deserve a second chance.


"'We can be for safe communities and supporting our officers while still believing that people can have a second chance. That’s why in 2019, I signed the largest single-day commutation in U.S. history."


Nearly 500 low-level, non-violent drug offenders were freed, Stitt recounted. Oklahoma closed four prisons and has 5000 fewer people in prison than we did when he took office, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.


Stitt says he reformed the criminal justice system, prosecutors and courts "were funding themselves through fines, fees and court costs." Now, such fees go to the legislature for funding courts and district attorneys, "so they aren’t incentivized to levy more fines," he said.


A bil named for Stitt's wife, Sarah, "made it possible for inmates preparing for reentry to obtain drivers’ licenses and set up job fairs in prisons so that upon reentry, they understand what’s possible and they have access to gainful employment."


The state, along with 23 partner companies, created job training programs in prison to prepare inmates for employment."


An improved drug court program boasts a recidivism rate of only 8%.


Stitt is working improvng schools, saying that "to reduce the number of people going to prison and reduce recidivism rates, we needed to focus on our education system."


Oklahoma is nationally ranked #3 in lowest juvenile custody rates. Stitt credits the state Juvenile Affairs agency with intervening early to keep young people out of more involvement with the justicd system.


The governor is focusing on mental health issues, which he calls " huge driver of interactions

with the criminal justice system .. "we're taking steps to combat that before individuals

interact with the justice system."


Stitt has created a panel called the MODERN Justice Task Force, which he says "will conduct an

intensive review of our justice system and come up with strategies to reduce crime and recidivism and enhance public safety."

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