dochoc's blog

Education Remains Key Answer To Corrections Reform

A U.S. Department of Education report released this month shows that states, including Oklahoma, have been increasing funding for our horribly overcrowded prisons at a much higher rate than funding for K-12 and higher education.

The numbers viewed at both the overall national and individual state level are simply not sustainable. The report, using a nuanced and important comparative frame, absolutely shows the country and Oklahoma desperately need corrections reform. We need to shift from an emphasis on funding for incarceration to an emphasis on funding for education.

The report also shows that in Oklahoma, which has long had the highest incarceration rate for women on a per capita basis, had a whopping 272 percent change from 1979 to 2013 between more spending on prisons and jails than on more spending on education. The number of people incarcerated in local and state prisons and jails grew in Oklahoma since 1979 by 485 percent, according to the report, which also noted that the state’s population only grew by 34 percent during that time. The state now has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, according to OK Justice Reform. Why? Is it because of our dismal funding for education? That makes sense.

The report notes:

Over the past three decades, state and local government expenditures on prisons and jails have increased at a much faster pace than state and local spending on elementary and secondary education and postsecondary education. All too often, children growing up in poor communities not only do poorly in school but also are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated during their teen-age and young adult years.

Here’s the report. It’s worth going through it if for nothing else that its shock value. Local media outlets, when the report was first issued, made a big deal out of the fact that Oklahoma’s incarceration rate grew 14 times faster than the state’s adult populations since 1979-1980, but that headline grabber doesn’t really do the report justice in terms of its scope.

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Before Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appoints Harold Hamm as his possible energy secretary, he might look at what the oil and gas industry and the fracking boom has wrought in Oklahoma.

Earthquakes. Air pollution. A ruined economy. Underfunded schools and colleges.

It has been rumored that Hamm, chief executive officer of Continental Resources in Oklahoma City, might be considered for the cabinet position, although Hamm has told one media outlet he hasn’t “given it a minute thought.”

Hamm did speak at the recent Republican National Convention, tossing out gems like this: “Every time we can’t drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded.” That sounds like a huge exaggeration to me, but then this is Trump’s party now and gross generalizations and fear mongering are the non-substance of its warped ideology.

Let’s be clear: Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is not good for any economy. What’s good for the overall world economy is the move towards cleaner, renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, which is slowly happening. Fracking is not only harmful to the environment it also has created a huge world oil glut that has driven down prices and hurt our local economy, leaving Oklahoma exposed, once again, to the boom and bust cycle of the oil and gas industry.

Oil prices remain low despite rosier predictions from wishful people inside the fossil fuel industry. Right now, the price per barrel is around $45. This is down from highs of more than $100 a barrel not that long ago. Some experts have predicted oil prices will go below $40 again after the summer driving season when demand lessens for gasoline. This, along with generous tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, has resulted in major Oklahoma budget problems and cuts to schools and colleges. State legislators cut funding to higher education by nearly 16 percent last session.

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OKCPD Actions Send Wrong Public Messages

This post is not meant to be an overall criticism or indictment of the Oklahoma City Police Department, but I think more people here should speak out against allowing officers to bring their own weapons to the job, especially without the use of body cameras as well.

I also believe a recently released video of a June 24 police shooting of a person on a city bus raises more questions than it answers. I’ll get to that later in the post. Let’s deal with the officer-owned weapons issue first.

Oklahoma City Police Department Chief Bill Citty recently announced that he has reversed his previous decision and will now allow officers to bring their own rifles to the job. The local Fraternal Order of Police had requested Citty to allow them to do so, and the police chief initially refused. Citty told local media outlets the recent killing of police officers in Baton Rouge changed his mind.

The weapons will have to be approved and it’s apparently only temporary until the department purchases enough rifles for patrol officers, according to a media report, but it sets a bad precedent and sends a bad signal to the public in what has become an extremely precarious and violent summer in this country. How can any police department completely track and manage an officer’s personal weapons? It seems problematic, at the very least in terms of public appearance, even with strict controls. The local American Civil Liberties Union is against it as well.

Meanwhile, a recent administrative decision means Oklahoma City Police Department officers do NOT have to wear body cameras.

Officer-owned powerful rifles on the streets? No officer body cameras? It’s not right. It’s a bad message, and it could foster more violence.

The main argument for the weapons is that police officers don’t want to be outgunned in an active shooter situation by assault weapons, which is understandable, but that’s what SWAT teams are for even though they are problematic as well (see the last tweet in this post). It might make more sense, given the limited choices, to practice and hone SWAT-team responses to both keep the peace and protect lives rather than send a message to the public that police here are going to add to their arsenal with personal firepower.