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Adam Luck - Right On Crime

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Adam Luck - Right On Crime

Adam Luck - Right On Crime

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Right On Crime

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Show Details

Show 1712: Adam Luck - Right On Crime
Air Date: March 19, 2017



Rob McClendon: Our guest this week is the Oklahoma state director of Right On Crime – a group that believes justice reform is not only the right thing to do, but the fiscally conservative thing to do. Joining me now is Right On Crime’s Adam Luck. So, Adam, why do we incarcerate so many people here in the state?

Adam Luck: Yeah, well, first I’ll say it’s not just Oklahoma. It’s all across the United States. But Oklahoma is not unique in the fact that we just have a lot of laws that specifically target nonviolent drug offenses, and we punish those people quite severely when compared to the rest of the United States. So I think when you look at the population in Oklahoma’s prison system, a lot of them are nonviolent drug offenders, and that average is significantly higher than most other states in the United States.

Rob: Now, we always hear about prison overcrowding and we hear about prison understaffing for staff, too. Let’s talk about this from a budget perspective. What has this meant for us?

Luck: Well, it’s meant that the Corrections budget in Oklahoma is one of the fastest-growing and most significant budget items in our budget. So in the last couple of years it’s one of the only, one of the only, you know, handful of budget items that has actually increased. Where other state agencies have received, you know, 5 percent cut, our Corrections budget has grown significantly in the last 10 years.

Rob: Yeah, and that really doesn’t even touch on the social cost of incarceration.

Luck: Oh, absolutely, especially when you consider, you know, Oklahoma has the highest female per capita incarceration rate in the United States. And, you know, the national average for a child whose mother has been incarcerated, they are now seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves at some point in their life. So when you consider the impact in our communities and our families, the imperative to do something different just becomes even more significant.

Rob: Is it fair to say that when it comes to incarceration, and when it comes to sentencing, really one size does not fit all?

Luck: Absolutely, you know, and I think that’s what we’ve seen across the United States is that states have said we’ve got to do something different, and that’s going to look different for our state, because each state has different laws. And so I think for Oklahoma, even county by county there’s going to be different things that need to happen, you know, based on the judges and the prosecutors that are there, but also, you know, the problems that particular county faces, you know, for them. So, yeah, I think it will be different. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one specific policy that’s going to solve this issue statewide.

Rob: Yeah, do you differentiate between nonviolent and violent offenders?

Luck: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I think there’s, you know, a lot of people will say it this way, there’s a group of people that we are afraid of that need to be in prison, you know, for whatever reason, the crimes that they have committed they belong there, that we’re going to have to keep them in prison. But there’s another group of people that we might just be mad at. And I think the question now is, do they need to be in prison? Or are these people better served, maybe, you know, we’re looking at what is the root of their criminal behavior? Are we mad at them for using drugs? Are we mad at them for stealing something? And I think the question now has to be, is putting them in prison the best use of our resources? And if now, what else can we do to better serve them and really get the outcomes that we would expect from our correctional system?

Rob: You know, from my own experience in having visited several prisons, drug abuse and drug problems is a unifying factor, really across the offenders. They may be in there for a different crime, you now, but there is some time of drug use back there, so what does that tell us when we approach drugs here in the state?

Luck: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think one thing it tells us is that a lot of times people will turn to crime to feed their addiction. So when we look at somebody, we’ve got to look at and see, you know, like I said earlier, what are the root causes of their criminal behavior? And in Oklahoma if, if somebody’s got a substance abuse addiction, you know if they’ve got a substance abuse problem, what are the treatment options that we could provide for them that would potentially address those issues? Hold them accountable for, you know, something like, for example, like drug court, where we can hold them accountable for going to this treatment and receiving this treatment, you know, and at the end of this, you know, year-long program, they’ve actually addressed the reasons for their criminal behavior, we’ve spent less money on them than sending them to prison, and now they’re much less likely to recidivate and go back to prison after completing a program like that. So I think the answer to your question, we’ve got to look at what are the alternative options that we could use instead of prison that are actually going to better address the root cause and save us money in the long run.

Rob: Let’s talk a little bit more about recidivism. Does the real work start once someone is paroled?

Luck: Well, I think the work starts, you know, day one, as soon as somebody’s convicted, you know. The Department of Corrections, the job of corrections starts day one. But, you know, I think your question is, you know, what is the work when somebody is released, when somebody gets out of prison? And I think, you know, in Oklahoma not only do we, you know, incarcerate more people for more crimes for longer periods of time, but the effect of having a felony in Oklahoma is also much more significant, so for example, you know, losing your driver’s license or not being able to live in publicly subsidized housing or, you know, having a difficult time finding a job. I mean all those things are what we would call barriers to a successful re-entry. And when you look at, you know, the effect of having a felony in Oklahoma, we never really, you know, people who are convicted of a felony in Oklahoma, it’s very difficult for them to actually pay off their debt to society. And the idea for most people they would say, well, when somebody gets out of prison, they’ve paid their debt to society, they should be able to go back, they should have a second chance. And unfortunately, a lot of times in Oklahoma that’s just not the case. So I think there is significant work that begins when somebody is released from prison. And a lot of it has to do with just being able to find a job, being able to support themselves, having the capacity to pay off the fines and fees that they owe, being able to actually, you know, what we think of as reintegrating back into society, and that is significant work and often times very difficult work in Oklahoma.

Rob: Are there any examples where some of these ideas that you’re talking about that they’ve worked before?

Luck: Oh, absolutely. So the organization that I work for is called Right on Crime, and it’s initiative based out of an organization called the Texas Public Policy Foundation. It’s the largest state-based think tank in the United States. It’s based in Austin, Texas. And this initiative started after 2007 when the Texas Public Policy Foundation really helped the Texas legislature figure out some different policy options that they could pursue in light of some predictions that they received for an increase in their prison system growth over the next five years from 2005 to 2010. So they essentially were faced with an option of, look we either build new prisons to house an estimated 18,000 more inmates in the next five years, or we do something different. So the Texas Public Policy Foundation helped them, you know, come up with some different policy solutions, and essentially what they did was they invested a significant amount of money, at the time it was about $241 million in one legislative session. And what they did was, they developed, like I mentioned earlier, drug courts in every county in Texas. They focused on re-entry, they focused on helping people re-enter society, which significantly reduces their chances of recidivating. And essentially since then, so since 2007, fast forward to 2015, last year they had the lowest crime rate they’ve had since 1973. They’ve closed three state prisons. They’ve closed eight juvenile facilities. They’ve cut their juvenile population by 52 percent. They’re estimating that they’ve avoided and saved about $3 billion since then. So what we’ve seen is you know a conservative state, conservative legislature that’s really pursued criminal justice reform in a smart, fiscally conservative way and really held the government accountable, held the Corrections Department accountable for the outcomes that we would expect, given the amount of money that we’re spending in our corrections systems, so. And there’s other examples too. I mean Texas has kind of been one of the greatest examples of what this could look like. And like I said earlier, you know, the point you touched on, which is that it’s going to look different for every state. And that’s part of the work we’re doing, is just trying to facilitate the conversation around what this will look like in Oklahoma and just trying to move this work forward here, so.

Rob: I know it certainly sounds like budgetarywise this works. What about the emotional side? How do you go convince a lawmaker that you know we need to get people, some people maybe that are being incarcerated now out of prison and back on the street with that lawmaker knowing that there is the possibility some of them will re-offend?

Luck: Right, yeah. It certainly is a difficult argument to make, given how, you know, when you consider how many of us were raised, especially in Oklahoma, looking at if from a perspective of tough on crime. You know we have a significant portion of our legislature that would ascribe to the Christian faith, as I myself do. And I think, you know, part of, part of the work that we’re doing is, you know, from the faith perspective thing of these are the things that you believe and how does that line up with the way that we treat someone who has wronged our society. They’re asking the question, are we truly giving them a second chance when they re-enter society? And I think that a lot of times communicates very well. I think the point you mentioned earlier, you know, the impact on our society, the impact on our communities is another very strong argument to make. And then lastly, I think, you know, the gravity of our incarceration system in Oklahoma is such that one in 12, the estimation is one in 12 Oklahomans have either been convicted of a felony or interacted with the prison system in some way -- one in 12. So the chances are, whoever I’m talking to, they either know somebody or are one degree away from somebody who has interacted with the corrections system in Oklahoma. And that’s just a lot of people. So I think when we, you know, it’s easy to look at this issue and say, you know, these are just people who have done something wrong, and they deserve it. But when you really break it down, you know, these are our neighbors. These are people that we know, that we love, that we care about. These are our sons and daughters. And I think when you break it down that way, and you start to see that, you know, these people are coming back. You know, we release close to 9,000 people from the Oklahoma prison system every year. These people are coming back. And if we really care about our economy, if we really care about our families, if we really care about the direction and the trajection of our state, what are we doing to make sure that we are going to prosper in the future? You know, what are we doing to make sure that these people have a chance, actually have a chance to re-enter society and be successful after they’ve made a mistake and paid their debt to society? So I think, you know, those are some of the things that we try and talk about and I think the larger question is, you know, even if somebody in the legislature says I agree with you a hundred percent on these things, I think the larger questions is, do they have the political capacity to support this? And I think that’s what we’re really seeing now is a shift in how politically this issue has been viewed in the past and how it’s being viewed now, specifically because of the work that the governor’s done in the justice reform committee that they’ve started, the work that they’re starting there. And also we’ve seen a lot of attention on this issue in Oklahoma County and Tulsa County because of the jails and the overcrowding of the jails. So I think we’re starting to see kind of the political language that’s surrounded this issue for a long time is starting to shift, and that’s encouraging.

Rob: Well, Adam, certainly an issue that could not be more important to our state. Thank you so much for coming to visit with us.

Luck: Yeah, absolutely.

Rob: Now, if you would like to see other perspectives on justice reform, we do have some of those streaming on our website including some faith-based initiatives. Just head to our value added section at