Landmark Legislation, Hope for Spottedcrows

Photo by Jennifer James | May 2011 | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED | Photo published with parental consent

This is Jaya, middle daughter of Patricia Spottedcrow, sentenced to 12 years (two suspended) in prison for selling $31 of marijuana. She is the granddaughter of Dee, who I am now blessed to call my friend. Jaya is well-cared for, a sweet and loving child, who misses her Mommy. Please see more amazing pictures of this beautiful Oklahoma family by the talented photographer and criminal defense attorney, Josh Welch. They are not our charity. We are their charity.

by Speaker of the House, Rep. Kris Steele (R-Shawnee)

When House Bill 2131 was signed into law Wednesday, Gov. Mary Fallin declared it landmark corrections legislation.

A landmark is a development that marks a turning point. With the signing of this measure, Oklahoma has indeed reached a turning point on corrections reform. This new law takes a step toward easing the many fiscal and social strains placed upon our state by overcrowded prisons.

While reaching this milestone is important, Oklahoma’s incarceration dilemma and all the ancillary problems associated with it cannot be solved overnight. We must do more.

The next step in corrections reform is determining whether our criminal justice system is protecting the public’s safety in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Oklahoma may soon have the opportunity engage in a data-driven effort known nationally as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. This bipartisan, inter-branch approach utilizes rigorous analyses of state and local criminal justice systems to design strategies aimed at increasing public safety by reinvesting dol¬lars, which would otherwise be spent on prison growth expenditures, on effective community-based programs.

The criminal justice system deserves the attention of the Legislature because the impact it has on society stretches far beyond simply locking up offenders. When a low-risk, nonviolent offender enters prison, it can cause a ripple effect across the entire state. A child is left with an incarcerated parent. As a result, educators struggle to teach children who battle issues of fear, neglect and embarrassment. Taxpayers must pay incarceration costs and fund new prisons when old ones fill up. Offenders are often released back into society without having received help needed to address the root of their problems. They re-offend. And so the cycle goes, on and on, year after year.

The focus must be on stopping this ripple effect and reversing the trend. Oklahoma will be well-equipped to accomplish this goal if we implement the Justice Reinvestment approach and evaluate our criminal justice system to identify where changes can be made. Possible changes may include improving the way offenders are supervised in the community when on probation and parole or expanding mental health and substance abuse treatment for those in need.

Andrea Baker is a prime example of why a new corrections paradigm should be considered. In a fitting and touching gesture Wednesday, Gov. Fallin presented the pen she used to sign HB 2131 to Andrea, whose inspiring story shows how reforming corrections policies can change lives and produce better outcomes for our citizens and the entire state.

Andrea once battled drug addictions that had overtaken her life. Her addiction landed her in trouble with the law. Faced with a lengthy prison sentence for a nonviolent drug crime, Andrea believed her life was over. She thought she wouldn’t be there for her children or family. She felt she would never be able to succeed with the stigma of a prison sentence staining her reputation.

But she soon learned she qualified for an alternative sentencing opportunity and entered the Tulsa-based Women in Recovery program, which allows nonviolent female offenders to serve their sentences outside prison while participating in a strictly-supervised comprehensive day treatment program. Andrea is now sober and armed with the skills necessary for successful community integration. She is reunited with her family and enjoying being the mother she always wanted to be.

Success stories like Andrea Baker are the reason I authored HB 2131 and am committed to continuing on the path this legislation sets forth for our state.

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