In a two-part series, an Oklahoma news partnership explores how the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a package of reforms meant to overhaul the criminal code, reduce the prison population and save money, went from political darling to albatross in less than a year. The reporting by the Oklahoman, the Tulsa World and the Associated Press was based upon 8,000 pages of documents obtained from Gov. Mary Fallin’s office by Open Records requests made more than 14 months ago.
The reforms seemed politically popular in 2012. But within months, Fallin’s office held meetings without key players and declined to take federal money that could have been used to fund key parts of the law. Emails show that a Fallin aide expressed concern that President Barack Obama favored prison reform. The governor’s chief of staff wrote in reply: “Lovely.” In another email, she wrote, “My thought is why further tie ourselves to liberal corrections reforms groups?” Fallin staffers also emailed among themselves a Sooner Tea Party newsletter that derides JRI as “soft on crime.” Fallin is up for re-election this year and is being challenged by a Republican tea party favorite.