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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

May 7, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman. May 5, 2019.

— Some progress on reform.

In his State of the State speech, Gov. Kevin Stitt asked his audience to “take a moment to reimagine our state’s criminal justice system,” which incarcerates more people, per capita, than any state. New proposals provide a glimpse into his vision.

Stitt last week highlighted six things he wants accomplished in the final month of the legislative session. Stitt acknowledged that “much more progress needs to be made,” and that criminal justice will remain a priority in his administration.

We hope so. For now, he’s asking for the following:

— A new funding structure for district attorneys and courts in which fees and fines go to the state’s general revenue fund to be appropriated. Stitt says the current arrangement creates a conflict of interest between generating revenue and administering justice.

— $10 million to fund mental health and postincarceration programs, to try to break the incarceration cycle.

— Passage of an amended version of House Bill 1269, which seeks to make retroactive the reforms included in State Question 780, approved by voters in 2016. SQ 780 reclassified some low-level drug and property crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies. Stitt wants to expedite the commutation and expungement processes for those doing time for drug possession or other felonies that are now considered misdemeanors.

— Approval of House Bill 1373, with would let Oklahomans who have a nonviolent felony conviction be licensed in jobs unrelated to the criminal offense.

— Support for Senate Bill 616, which would eliminate the ability of inmates to waive their parole and create parole supervision standards that reduce the number of people who wind up returning to prison. The focus would be on intermediate sanctions whenever possible.

— Looking to next year, Stitt wants the Legislature to modernize the state’s criminal code by, among other things, removing outdated crimes, creating a comprehensive “A/B/C” classification system as in other states, and make it possible to create new sentencing and enhancement standards based on the new classifications. “Classifying the criminal code will protect public safety and shrink our prisons by modernizing criminal laws, linking much-needed bail reform to classifications, and creating alternatives to incarceration that are effective and save money,” Stitt said.

Stitt’s rollout included endorsements from executives with groups such as the Tulsa and Oklahoma City chambers of commerce, Right on Crime, Justice Action Network and FreedomWorks. Legislative leaders from both parties said they liked what they saw.

The governor’s list isn’t as extensive as some would like. Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, although it endorsed Stitt’s proposals, had presented lawmakers with a slate of reforms that it said would cause the inmate population to fall below today’s level by 2028, instead of growing by as much as 14 percent during that time.

However, the governor’s proposals would represent progress, and some progress is far better than none on this critical issue.

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Enid News & Eagle. May 6, 2019.

— Strate Center has helped entrepreneurs for decade

What started a decade ago as a dream to help budding entrepreneurs in Enid has become the highly successful Strate Center for Business Development.

On Wednesday, Autry Technology Center will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Strate Center, celebrating its creation and sharing its stories of success.

The center, named for former Autry Tech superintendent James W. Strate, who was instrumental in securing its funding, has served as a business incubator, providing tools, advice, training and office space for small businesses and entrepreneurs looking to bring their ideas to life or grow their existing businesses.

The center also offers mentoring, coaching and educational workshops through Autry Tech and its partners. Businesses are charged a monthly rent on a graduated scale throughout a three-year period.

After that, as Brian Gaddy, director of IT and the Strate Center, said, “By year four, you’re at market value because the objective is not to be in here, it’s to be in the community.”

Connections are another benefit of the Strate Center. From Oklahoma Department of Commerce and Small Business Administration to regional economic development centers and Enid Regional Development Alliance, small business owners can connect and network with the resources they need to reach their goals.

Since its opening, the Strate Center has had 29 tenants, including such successful businesses as T&C Meats, Fence Solutions, Grace Care, Purple Ink Consulting and Scio 3D Sports.

Current businesses utilizing the center are Bee Line Heating & Air Conditioning, 4RPups, BaseConnect, Premier Image Screen Printing, Over the Fence Farms and Spotted Cow Packaging.

Wednesday’s celebration begins at 8 a.m. with breakfast and networking opportunity until 9 a.m.

Following three speakers at 9 a.m., those attending can spend time touring the facility and visiting with incubator clients.

We want to join those congratulating the Strate Center for the great job its done all these years promoting and growing small businesses.

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Tulsa World. May 7, 2019.

— Oklahoma courts and prosecutors depend on fines and fees — an unjust and unsustainable model

To its shame, Oklahoma foists the cost of justice on an unpopular group with little recourse — criminal defendants.

The idea is to use fees and fines to make the people responsible for the cost of the state’s criminal courts bear the costs of operating those courts.

That’s a warped, self-serving variant of the idea of user fees. The beneficiaries of a well-operated criminal court system aren’t the people who are convicted, it is the general public, who get to live in a well-managed, just society. Dumping the costs of the judiciary, prosecutors and some government services only vaguely related to courts on criminal defendants gives those who are sworn to uphold justice an obvious conflict of interest. If they want the bills paid, they better keep the fines flowing.

Worse, it coerces defendants to pay their way out of jail, a perversion of equal justice under law.

It’s also a self-defeating mechanism, because the funded government services end up dependent on fines and fees from some of the poorest people in society.

We end up with a justice system dedicated to getting blood from a turnip and an underclass of people trapped in a cycle of petty crime, fees and bureaucracy. Our jails bulge with people whose biggest crime is poverty. The biggest loser is the taxpayer, who pays for the jail and ends up with an underfunded justice system.

Total fee and fine collections hit $168 million in fiscal year 2017, $111 million for the judicial branch and $57 million for state and local agencies, as Tulsa World reporter Corey Jones demonstrated Sunday. Nearly $590 million was collected from FY 2007-2017 for programs not related to the district courts.

It’s unjust and unsustainable.

To his credit, Gov. Kevin Stitt has called for divorcing criminal justice system funding from the fines and fees it generates. That’s an important move that recognizes that justice isn’t a bought-and-paid-for commodity.