By Steve Turnbo and Julie Knutson
It truly was a historic day in this great state on Nov. 1 as the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Gov. Kevin Stitt took the steps necessary to commute the sentences of more than 450 inmates; however, let’s not forget there is more work to be done to make sure we as a state do not fail these men and women who are being given a second chance.
When prisoners are released, they face an environment that is challenging, and many do not have the support system in place that allows them to become a productive member of society. That is why it is imperative, and our responsibility, that once inmates are released, oversight and care are not only available, but required.
Oklahomans from across the state looked at this specific issue during the 2008 Oklahoma Academy Town Hall that focused on “Oklahoma’s Criminal Justice System: Can We be Just as Tough but Twice as Smart?” After an in-depth examination of Oklahoma’s criminal justice system, the process by which justice is maintained and administered, the participants of the Town Hall determined many who are released after serving time in prison face a difficult road for successful reintegration into society and the workplace.
The 2008 Academy Town Hall recommended the state develop discharge plans that coordinates with nonprofits, faith-based and private community entities. This will assist in meeting the needs of those freed from prison upon release, i.e. housing, employment, counseling and other resources. Effective coordination between participating agencies dealing with offenders coming out of the judicial system is integral to the successful continuation and growth of these programs.
We must also improve collaboration between parole or probation and mental health or substance abuse providers so these men and women reintegrating into society can seek help if needed and have a chance to succeed.
Again, we applaud Stitt and his administration for the steps taken toward criminal justice reform. We also commend the many organizations that are working to make sure these individuals are receiving the help they need. Let us not just set records for the largest single prison sentence commutation in U.S. history, let us show how the state implemented criminal justice reform for the better of all involved with a plan to aid in a person’s successful re-entry into society.
As House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols said, “These are real people with real lives and real families and real friends, and now they get to go home.”
Let’s make sure we equip them with the resources needed to become productive members of society. Let’s make sure now that they are out of prison, they have viable connections to our career technology centers, our faith-based organizations and our nonprofit organizations. These individuals have been given another chance and want to be productive citizens, but this cannot be achieved without the systems in place to make it happen.
This is our responsibility and our duty.
The Oklahoma Academy is a statewide nonprofit/nonpartisan, membership organization founded by Gov. Henry Bellmon in 1967 to bring public attention to policy issues, provide objective, thorough research, develop consensus public policy recommendations and act as a catalyst for positive change.
Steve Turnbo is Chairman Emeritus of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He is a past chairman of The Oklahoma Academy as well as the chair of the 2008 Oklahoma Academy Town Hall. Julie Knutson serves as the President and CEO of The Oklahoma Academy.