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Rehabilitation meeting raises awareness

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LAWTON, Okla._The Southwest District Community Corrections Citizens Council met to discuss changes to Oklahoma's prison system.

They held a question and answer session with former Speaker of the House, Kris Steele who is now the executive director of a non-profit group called "The Education and Employment Ministry". That program helps set up jobs for inmates when they exit the prison system.

The council members and Steele, all spoke to the positive effect prevention and treatment could make on some of the incarcerated. Steele and the others agreed that the way we handle low risk offenders isn't the right way to go about it, "In the state of Oklahoma the general attitude is that incarceration is the answer for all people and for all crimes, and I think that when we paint with such a broad brush we are literally making the situation worse."

The council members all want change in the prison system to meet the needs of some low risk offenders. Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates of any state in the U.S. and number one for the rate of incarcerating women. Council members believe that offenders need help while in jail in the form of treatment and preventions. Dr. Clarence Luckey, pastor of Barnett Chapel, says there are few programs that prepare offenders for life outside the walls, "The hierarchy of the prison system is not concerned with rehabilitation. Its primary goal is to incarcerate and once incarcerated not to rehabilitate but to punish."

Steele said there are a few programs but we need more, "We are pretty thin and I would just note that both of the programs we have as far as diversion programs for non-violent offenders are for females. And that is great, and I support them. But I mention that to say that we don't have anything like that for non violent male offenders"

He also believes that those who are a threat to society need to be incarcerated, but the majority of those in prison are considered low risk offenders. Steele said that by addressing the needs of those low risk offenders differently we could save money, keep families together, and have healthier communities, "The ultimate goal is for the state of Oklahoma and communities across the state to become smart on crime rather than just this notion of being tough on crime. I think that has a state we can be just as tough and twice as smart".

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative was passed in 2012 to create support programs for those offenders; however the current state legislature has not followed through. At the next meeting, the advisory council plans on discussing how they can implement their own programs to help those newly-released low-risk offenders.

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