Monday, March 10, 2008

Open Door Policy - March 3, 2008

I want to start the column this week by thanking Pastor Leon Shade and the congregation at First Baptist Church in Apache. I was invited to speak to the church on Sunday about prison ministry work and the problems we are facing with the corrections system here in Oklahoma. We have some great volunteers here in Oklahoma, such as Billie Ruth McDonald from Lawton who spend time inside the prison walls ministering to the inmates to help them find faith.
I'm carrying legislation (HCR 1008) to create a task force to look at establishing a "reintegration facility" here in Oklahoma. This would turn an existing facility into a place where inmates would go one year from release to learn how to survive outside the walls by taking life skills classes. This will cut down on recidivism and save money down the road by teaching them how to live a normal existence and not return to a life of crime.
This is a heavily debated issue where some people say we are being "soft on crime" by trying to prepare these convicts to learn how to live outside prison again and others saying that religious groups should not be involved in prison ministry work due to the separation of church and state. Both these arguments are silly in my opinion. This is giving the inmates the opportunity to make it outside, which saves taxpayer dollars if they do not commit another crime. All the work done in the prison ministry system is non-denominational volunteer effort and no state resources are provided other than space to lead these meetings.
If these men and women can find faith and opportunity, then they can feel that they have a purpose. They will also know they have a church home outside to help them make it, then even if they have no relatives, the prisoner has a better chance of staying straight and the taxpayers spend less on corrections. Over 90% of prisoners will be released at some point and we have to do what we can do to make sure they do not return to a life of crime.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My home number for work is 1-580-476-2626. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

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