December 31, 2013

Tidbits from Reporting on Justice Reform, Including Apology to Governor

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Here are some additional pieces of information that emerged from interviews and documents released by Gov. Mary Fallin’s office related to the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and private prisons:

General Counsel Apologizes to Governor

* On Feb. 21, Rebecca Frazier, Fallin’s then assistant general counsel, emailed a letter to a representative of the Council of State Governments and the JRI core oversight group saying the state would turn down a federal grant for the program — a reversal of Fallin’s earlier position.

Gov. Mary Fallin

Gov. Mary Fallin

According to emails, after the story appeared in news media, Fallin emailed Steve Mullins, her general counsel and Frazier’s boss, saying she never saw the letter’s wording to approve it. Mullins apologized for not running it by her, and Fallin asked him to meet with her later.

Appropriations Chair’s Support of Private Prisons

* Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, has been outspoken in favor of expanding the use of private prisons. In July, Jolley told Oklahoma Watch that the state should send more prisoners from state facilities to private facilities.

Jolley was a member of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council’s public safety task force, which included representatives from Corrections Corporation of America and often drafted model legislation for state legislators to take back to their home states to introduce. The task force was disbanded in 2012.

While there are no large private prison facilities in Jolley’s Edmond district, the city is home to Donald Smith, CEO of the Oklahoma City-based private halfway house company Avalon Correctional Services. Smith owns a 5,447 square-foot house with a market value of $1.3 million, according to property records.

Avalon May Get More Inmates

This week, Oklahoma Watch learned that the Department of Corrections is considering shifting additional inmates from its own halfway-house programs to Avalon facilities.

Jerry Massie, spokesman for the agency, said the move is a response to Avalon’s lobbying for the move and its allegation that the department is not complying with a requirement that certain inmates spend at least 180 days in a halfway house before release. Massie said the department is in compliance because the law grants the agency discretion.

Secretary of State’s Advocacy of Private Prisons

* Senate Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, who served as Fallin’s Secretary of State until January 2013, also has been a vocal proponent of private prisons. He has been quoted  in Corrections Corporation of America partnership brochures.

In 2009, as pro tem, Coffee rejected a private firm’s 2009 report on the state’s prison system because it did not include a recommendation about expanding use of private prisons. Coffee requested a cost analysis of closing some state prisons and came under fire after one of his advisors took a trip to Mexico with a Geo Group lobbyist.

In 2011, according to former corrections director Justin Jones, then-Secretary of State Coffee called him near the end of the legislative session and asked him to put in a call to House leadership and request that a bill passed by the Senate giving per-diem increases to private prisons be passed. The per diem increase was not part of the negotiated budget, and would be unfunded if the House did not take it up, Jones said.

“He advised me the governor supported it and it was in my best interest to make the call, which I did,” Jones told Oklahoma Watch.

Ex-Correction Director’s Opposition to Private Prisons

Justin Jones has voiced  opposition to send state prisoners to private facilities.  He resigned after criticism over reports that he did not disclose there was $22 million in revolving funds at the agency, which Fallin’s office said it should have known when making budget recommendations. Jones denied any improper actions but resigned in June.

When he announced his resignation, he told the Tulsa World it was not ethically or morally right “for shareholders to make a profit off of incarceration of our fellow citizens,” and  “with my Christian upbringing, there has always been a conflict with that.”