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Roundup of Oklahoma editorials

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:


The Oklahoman, Jan. 12, 2015

Lawmaker right to continue push for corrections reform in Oklahoma

When his modest corrections reform bill went to the Oklahoma House floor in March 2014, Rep. Bobby Cleveland felt good about its chances. "I had the votes," Cleveland says. But then a colleague argued that it would mean early release for some hardened criminals, and called it "soft on crime." The measure was voted down, overwhelmingly.

Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, is undeterred. Fortunately, he plans to continue his call for a new way of doing business instead of continuing a decades-long pattern that's pushed Oklahoma's prison population past 28,000 while not producing a significant downturn in the state's violent crime rate.

Pushback is inevitable. Although Gov. Mary Fallin has indicated a desire to revisit corrections reform, many Republican legislators remain uncomfortable with the idea. They worry about being slapped with the "soft on crime" label and having to defend themselves on the campaign trail. Cleveland finds those concerns to be overblown.

"When I ran this time, and when I ran the first time, no one brought up corrections," says Cleveland, who's beginning his second two-year term.

He said he didn't give the topic much thought, either, when he first won election. That changed after he toured some of the state's prisons and spoke to corrections officers and prisoners alike. During those tours, he also found that not all prisons use computer technology to track such things as the amount of food being handled. Some still do it by hand, he said.

"If you had a $500 million business that wasn't using computers," he said, noting the Department of Corrections' budget, "how long would it stay in business?"

Cleveland says he'd like the state to invest what's needed to get computers fully integrated throughout the prison system, figuring that doing so would produce savings down the road. Additionally, he wants his colleagues to direct more funds to mental health and substance abuse programs, including drug courts, because doing so can help stem the number of offenders who reach prison in the first place.

In visiting with prisoners, Cleveland says, "I haven't met one" whose offense wasn't related in some way to substance abuse or mental health. Indeed the DOC has said half of all state inmates have a history of, or now exhibit, some form of mental illness. Likewise, the major offense of half of all Oklahoma inmates is a nonviolent crime.

Cleveland says his efforts are targeted at those offenders, men and women who could lead productive lives and keep their families intact if they were given some help instead of being locked up. The worst criminal offenders, he stresses, deserve to be put away for a long time, although the bill that got torpedoed last year dealt with those.

He wanted to allow inmates sentenced for "85 percent crimes" — offenses requiring they serve 85 percent of their time before being considered for parole — to be allowed to earn good-behavior credits once they enter prison. No inmates would have been released before serving the full 85 percent. Instead the change, supported by correctional officers, would have let inmates eventually be released a few months earlier than scheduled. It would have freed up beds and saved roughly $5 million per year.

Cleveland says he'll try again in 2015, and pursue other ways to effect change in the system. "We can't just warehouse," he said. "If people want to say I'm soft on crime, then I guess I am. I just think we can do better than we've been doing."

Well said.


Tulsa World, Jan. 13, 2015

Barresi disappoints again with final-days hiring spree

It was disappointing, but not surprising that state Superintendent Janet Barresi managed to stir up one more controversy on her way out the door at the Department of Education.

Her four years in office were full of discord and rancor. Why should the final four weeks be any different?

Tulsa World reporter Andrea Eger reports that in Barresi's final weeks in office, she went on a hiring spree that adds up to $653,000 a year in base salary costs. There were also several promotions, adding up to at least $62,000 a year in extra costs.

You'll recall that after she lost her re-election bid in the Republican primary, Barresi created a political furor when she hired the husband of her general counsel for a newly created $90,000-a-year assistant state superintendent's job. After that, one of Barresi's fellow Republicans in the Legislature proposed tying the hands of all elected officials during the election season.

You'll also recall that when she came into office, Barresi wanted the right to hire her own team at the state Department of Education despite resistance from holdover Brad Henry-era state Board of Education members. We supported Barresi then because elections should have consequences and newly elected state officers deserve the right to set an agenda using personnel choices.

We wish Barresi had shown the grace of allowing the same privilege to her successor, Joy Hofmeister.

We hope Barresi's late-term hires don't get too comfortable in their new offices. We suspect Hofmeister will want to review all the department's personnel and make changes to accommodate the mandate she got from voters when they rejected Barresi.

Hofmeister was sworn into office Monday afternoon. Thanks goodness. We'd like to say that means we're through with Barresi's antics, but we're going to hold off on that judgment for a while.


Muskogee Phoenix, Jan. 12, 2015

Terror will not defeat satire

People died for free speech last week in France. The deaths, tragic, outrageous and shocking, are also proof of the power of satire to strike fear in the hearts of extremists.

We think of our soldiers giving their lives to defend our free speech, and so we should. But we must also remember that journalists around the world have given their lives for freedom. In this case, they died for their irreverent cartoons.

Jon Stewart, in reaction to the attack, said "Very few people go into comedy as an act of courage, mainly because it shouldn't have to be that." In this case, satire through cartoons were exactly that, an act of courage.

Whether or not we find the mocking publications of Charlie Hebdo distasteful, we must support the right to poke fun as an integral part of free speech.

Mockery strikes fear into the heart of these extremists, much as it has in the hearts of despots and tyrants throughout history. They felt obliged to not only stamp out the speech, but also the speakers (or cartoonists).

Humor has the power to shake us out of standard habits of thought, to make us see things in a new light. And light is what these proponents of terror and repression fear. They turn religion, which can be a beacon, into a shroud. They would use their extreme beliefs as justification to bludgeon those who would challenge them.

They fear satire; they also should fear to strike the satirists, because by doing so they have rallied the forces of freedom to stand with those they strike down.


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