Blancett’s Work Leads to New Criminal Justice Task Force, Applauds Governor’s Efforts
OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa, through two years of interim studies and building legislative consensus, built the framework which led to the new statewide criminal justice task force announced this week by Governor Kevin Stitt.
Blancett applauded Governor Stitt and his Secretary of Public Safety Tricia Everest for establishing the MODERN Justice Task Force, designed to conduct a first-of-its-kind intensive review of Oklahoma’s justice system through modern jail data collection and analysis in conjunction with the Crime & Justice Institute, national experts.
“Without proper data, we are just guessing, which is not the best way to obtain targeted results, particularly around criminal justice policy because so much of it is emotion driven,” Rep. Blancett said, emphasizing her need for human-centered, data-driven decision-making and commitment to outcome-focused use of taxpayer dollars.
Currently there are few mechanisms for state leaders to learn about and understand the challenges local jails are facing. This is exacerbated by the fact that the state does not currently collect aggregated data pertaining to county jails, making it difficult for state leaders to allocate the correct funding and resources at the local level which is the core of our justice system, Rep. Blancett said.
In the midst of legislative angst about funding mental health and substance abuse programs that were called for by SQ781, she contacted the Crime & Justice Institute for a 2021 interim study to examine barriers to incarceration alternatives and began a conversation with them about coming to Oklahoma to assist with data collection and analysis.
In 2022, she held another interim study to identify infrastructure barriers preventing the collection of better jail data that could drive targeted, strategic investment in programs which would free up law enforcement resources for better public safety.
She also worked closely with Sec. Everest and House and Senate leaders to obtain their support for the data collection effort and to convince county sheriffs to participate by sharing their local data, which will be aggregated for analysis.
In 2022, most jails across the state failed to pass health inspections making jails unsafe and highlighting gaps in the state’s mental health response and the lack of resources in local sheriffs offices, particularly outside major metro areas. Rep. Blancett said she felt an urgent need to address the issues local communities were facing with mass incarceration.
“I always lead with data that is agnostic, meaning it’s not skewed toward a predetermined outcome. Better data leads to better policymaking which leads to more informed legislation,” Rep. Blancett said.
“We know rural towns and big cities alike are struggling with our criminal justice system. We are hearing from law enforcement officers, behavioral health providers and community members about the strain on the system and their local communities,” Rep. Blancett said.
Governor Stitt’s executive order creating the bi-partisan task force requires members to submit a report of its findings and recommendations to him, House Speaker Charles McCall, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, House Democratic Leader Cyndi Munson and Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd by December 29.
“My hope is the task-force will yield a deep, never-before-conducted analysis of jail data across the state, allowing decision-makers to use the most accurate information available to make decisions,” Leader Munson said.
“I am encouraged that the Governor is bringing together many stakeholders to address this issue that impacts all Oklahomans. This comprehensive analysis and policy development opportunity will allow leaders to create solutions that improve local correctional systems, reduce the unnecessary use of detention, and expand alternatives for those with behavioral health challenges,” Rep. Blancett said.