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Shining a light on crime

Brian Maughan September 5th, 2012

Oklahoma lawmakers have made real strides in getting smarter about crime, and about which offenders get locked up. Recent legislation has expanded the use of sentencing alternatives like drug courts and community service programs.

Happily, Oklahoma County was ahead of this trend, and a new law will make our efforts even more effective and cost-efficient.

In spring 2010, I joined with judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys to create a new program called SHINE. It stands for Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere, and it created a structure for low-level, nonviolent offenders sentenced to do a specific number of community service hours.

In the past, those offenders often sat around at a nonprofit agency, occasionally stuffing some envelopes. SHINE puts them to work in supervised work crews to trim brush, pick up litter and remove graffiti. They work on road ways, school property and parks, and we’ve even put them to work on projects like setting up tents for the annual Festival of the Arts.

Since this April, SHINE has enrolled almost 9,000 offenders who have worked more than 140,000 hours. This saves money in three distinct ways.

First, SHINE crews perform needed work that is no longer done by the city, county or other publicly funded agencies.

Second, since it costs almost $50 per day to house an inmate in the county jail, those sentenced to SHINE crews are discharging their sentences at no cost to the taxpayer.

And third, since health problems are endemic among some groups of offenders, taxpayers are no longer paying their medical bills while they are in custody.

It costs very little to oversee a SHINE crew — a couple of county employees, a truck or two and some equipment like brush trimmers and rakes.

In its first year of existence, SHINE saved $1.5 million in jail costs alone.

Now a new law will make SHINE even more cost-efficient and allow for its expansion.

The Safari McDoulett Community Service Act, passed this spring by the state Legislature, allows judges to impose fees from $25 to $250 on any person convicted of or pleading guilty to a felony. Those fees will go into the SHINE fund to administer the program.

The act was named for an Oklahoma County District 2 employee who was killed in a tragic traffic accident earlier this year. Safari McDoulett was instrumental in helping create and run a companion program called Students for SHINE, which encourages volunteerism among students.

Now local municipal courts are expressing an interest in channeling their low-level offenders into SHINE, which will further reduce jail populations. We work these people hard, and many of them see the irony of being driven out to a location to paint over graffiti they may have spray-painted themselves.

SHINE works so well that other counties, both here in Oklahoma and across the nation, are eager to emulate it. It’s an Oklahoma success story.

Maughan is District 2 Oklahoma County Commissioner.

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09.14.2012 at 09:41 Reply

I am sorry but these positive comments about SHINE go just a little far.

Theoretically the program sounds like a great idea. Some much needed activities are accomplished with little to no public funding. However, the theory-to-practice loses a little in translation.

Foremost the program's operations lack the flexibility needed to accommodate a diverse working class. I guess there's an assumption made that these offenders just don't work or if they do then they can merely "ask off" - because while performing SHINE activities your adherence to a strict set of hours is expected. This schedule, unfortunately, directly collides with normal working hours and if the offender has a job he can hardly be expected to keep it while performing tasks for SHINE. This just leads us right back to the reason for commission of the crimes in the first place and, thus, increases recidivism.

Second - this idea that offenders are spared from serving time at the county jail is just a complete farce.  Out of, literally, thousands of pleas I cannot think of a single one where community service in the SHINE program was given in lieu of jail time. That community service is routinely given IN ADDITION TO other probation requirements. If it was supposed to be a substitute then David Prater missed the memo and, perhaps, wasn't even privy to the discussion. So this whole idea of jail savings is a sham.

Last ... I find the idea of adding even more fees and costs to an offenders' plate to be one of the most asinine pieces of legislation passed by our state in years. The fact that these people don't have money in the first place is the primary reason most of these crimes are committed. Now over the last few years (in Oklahoma county at least) we have added on probation fees of $40 per month, costs of incarceration, increased court costs, an additional DPS fee, and a DNA fee. I am probably even missing some. It is no wonder that misdemeanor probation revocations have skyrocketed resulting in even more economic pressure on defendants to break the law again. We keep perpetuating the cycle with more and more costs. Is this REALLY how we fight a war on crime and protect the public? Now we're adding yet another fee with the Safari McDoulette Community Service Act? Give me a break. Let's honor her with a park or something vice an increase in criminal activity.

Let's be HONEST about SHINE if others are going to emulate it. The program needs serious work if it's going to be productive. Right now everyone in the criminal defense area tries to work around it when the idea should be to enbrace it.

Jeff Messer