OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Corrections hosted one of the nation’s leading minds in evidence-based practice in criminal justice programs on Wednesday.
About 100 ODOC leadership and agency program staff joined representatives from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, lawmakers, and nonprofit leaders for a talk by Professor Edward Latessa at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Latessa is the Director of the University of Cincinnati’s School of Criminal Justice, a researcher whom, in 2013, the Department of Justice called one of criminal justice’s most innovative people in the field.
He addressed topics ranging from a science-based understanding of what makes criminal minds tick (information program staff can use to change thinking and behavior) to what effectively lowers recidivism risk.
“People are going to come out of your institutions someday,” Latessa told the crowd assembled. “We want them coming out better than they came in.”
He divided “evidence” into two board categories – the lowest form, anecdotal evidence, consisting of opinions or testimonials; and the highest form – evidence rooted in actual, verifiable data. He urged programs to base their approach on the latter. Anti-recidivism programs should be tailored to inmates’ risk of returning to prison, he said. They should also take into account how research has demonstrated that prisons disrupt what makes inmates less likely to re-offend, such as support networks and families.
ODOC Director Joe M. Allbaugh kicked off Latessa’s talk by restating the agency’s commitment to preparing inmates for re-entering society, something over 90 percent will do.
Allbaugh lauded the training as inspirational, noting Latessa’s clear-eyed presentation of what works and doesn’t work in corrections.
He also lamented the agency’s overcrowding (state institutions were at 112 percent of capacity Wednesday), which has filled up prisons’ program space with temporary beds.
“I’ve said multiple times that Oklahoma is failing,” Allbaugh said. “Oklahoma is failing because program space is being used to house our growing population. Oklahoma is failing because our focus has been managing an increasing population instead of addressing inmates’ and offenders’ criminogenic needs. Oklahoma is failing because it has lost sight of one of its most important goals – to return to society a better citizen than the one we received.”
ODOC’s use of temporary beds (beds used to house inmates over a facility’s rated capacity) has fallen since Allbaugh was hired in January 2016, from 2,968 such beds to 2,079.
Nevertheless, ODOC needs additional space, and has requested $813 million in funds from the State Legislature to build two new medium-security prisons in Fiscal Year 2019.
Allbaugh thanked state lawmakers Sen. Wayne Shaw, R- Grove; Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville; Rep. Greg Babinec, R-Cushing, for their attendance, as well as former Speaker of the House and current Pardon & Parole Board Member Kris Steele; Executive Director of the Pardon and Parole Board DeLynn Fudge; Board of Corrections Chair Michael Roach and Board of Corrections Member Adam Luck. Also present was Becky Haliburton, legislative analyst with the Oklahoma Senate.
Allbaugh acknowledged the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice, thanking the institute for helping ODOC organize the programming leadership course, as well as the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which funded the event.
Dr. Edward Latessa speaks Wednesday at an evidence-based practices
in criminal justice training attended by Oklahoma Department of Corrections
leadership and staff, lawmakers and nonprofit leaders.
Matt Elliott, Communications Director