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Jodi Cline
2017-2018 Adult Program Chair
Class XXVI and Lifetime Membe

Class 31's session on Criminal Justice, Incarceration and Alternatives was held in McAlester on December 8-9. The goals of the McAlester program were to help the class develop a clearer understanding of all aspects of Oklahoma’s criminal justice system and to discuss barriers and solutions to the issues that face the system. While in McAlester, they toured the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant (McAAP) and Choctaw Nation Defense, and observed an adult correctional facility.

Sponsors for the McAlester event were the Clark and Wanda Bass Foundation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Eastern Oklahoma State College, Hampton Inn, McGowan Family Foundation, Public Service Company of Oklahoma and the Puterbaugh Foundation. Scroll down to read reflections from a class member and click here to see some photos from the event.

Susan Damron

Director of Educational Programs
Oklahoma Bar Association

Over 35 years ago, I began working in public service within the criminal justice system. I consider myself as having a good handle on the issues. I now find myself trying to balance what I thought I knew with what I know following our session. The straight line between fighting for rights of victims and survivors versus the rights of defendants has become blurred. Being number one in incarceration of men and women is evidence our state is off course. Inmates convicted of non-violent offenses are locked in a system that provides little to no “correction” to address mental health and substance abuse issues. Their children suffer as a direct result.

My career in public service began with the passage of Oklahoma’s Crime Victims Bill of Rights. This was a time when law enforcement often stepped over the body of the victim to ensure the accused received their rights. I have worked for and trained prosecutors, secured federal grants to provide victims assistance, established programs addressing violence against women, and ultimately became the first chief of the Attorney General’s Victims Services Unit developing numerous statewide services. Although I will always be a victim advocate, the repercussion of over-incarceration of non-violent offenders is clear.

Even still, it is important that both defense and prosecutorial perspectives are at the table to find solutions. For example, knowing domestic violence is a “non-violent” offense may skew statistics. Also, cases may involve prior offenses or may include dropped charges pursuant to a plea agreement. When looking at the number of years a defendant was sentenced or learning parole was denied, we don’t hear the victim impact statements; we don’t see the prior arrests and convictions or the results of the numerous assessments considered by the judge or Parole Board.

Nonetheless, there is no question we are a state in crisis with no financial means to fund the programs necessary to address addiction and mental illness in our state. We learned about proven alternatives to incarceration such as Drug Courts and Women in Recovery, but not every district court has these options in place.

Bottom line, we came away with a sense of urgency and a strong commitment to talk to our state representatives about the importance of meaningful sentencing reform, the provision for other sentencing options and the appropriate redistribution of funds to ensure access to needed services. Bipartisanship is critical to making meaningful change.

To end on a happier note, thank you to our hosts for rolling out the red carpet. Food, fun and fellowship always compliment the heavy issues we have to digest. Pete’s Place was a highlight and getting to hear from Justice Taylor, a bonus. Last, but not least, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant was particularly impressive. Their chief of staff, Class 31’s Brian “the rock star” Lott, enhanced our tour by letting us blow stuff up making it extra special and adding yet another reason we are the BCE!


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