- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Muskogee Phoenix. Jan. 20, 2017.

A federal judge was right to put a halt to enforcement of an Oklahoma law that restricts American Indian arts and crafts.

The law places restrictions on what can be described as authentic Native American art.

Oklahoma’s definition of an American Indian is more restrictive than a federal law intended to achieve the same goal.

The state law prohibits the sale of American Indian arts and crafts from artists who are not members of federally recognized tribes.

That forbids artists from tribes recognized by some states but not the federal government from selling their art or crafts in Oklahoma.

The law is an attempt to ensure that anyone buying American Indian art can be assured it is made by an American Indian.

But government intrudes in our lives too much already.

Having the state attempt to determine heritage goes a bit too far.

Patrons who are seeking authentic American Indian art should do their homework to ensure they are purchasing what they seek.

In other words, buyer beware.

The judge’s order was issued in response to stipulations agreed to by the parties in a lawsuit challenging the law.

The next step in the suit is a conference scheduled for Feb. 1.

The status of this law ultimately may be settled in court.

But until the case is resolved, the judge made the right decision to allow artists to ply their trade.

___

Tulsa World. Jan. 23, 2017.

Recently, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office gave the media a tour of its new mental health pods in the expanded jail. Better facilities for dealing with mentally ill prisoners have been sorely needed for quite some time.

Two other pods also were added to handle general jail population. With the jail population trending downward for now, those two pods will not be needed and other options for their use are being considered.

Jails nationwide are seeing an increase in inmates with mental health problems. Putting mentally ill prisoners in the general population isn’t safe for anyone.

It’s a crying shame that the jail is becoming the city’s default mental health facility. The city lacks sufficient treatment facilities and professionals and the state has failed to properly fund its mental health system.

When they encounter mentally ill people who are acting out because they are off their medications or have undiagnosed conditions, police usually recognize the problem. Jail isn’t the right place for such people, but with no other alternative, jail is where they end up. That’s dangerous, expensive and if the jail isn’t ready to handle the prisoner, ineffective.

Reportedly, about 40 percent of inmates in the Tulsa jail have a mental illness, and about 2 percent having a serious mental illness.

The jail addition is important. It is a humane way to treat those who need treatment more than they need incarceration. It protects the vulnerable, the general jail population, jail employees and the public.

The better solution is a fully funded, adequately manned, sufficiently large community mental health system that treats people before they end up in jail. Until we get to that point, the jail improvements are an important step forward.

___

The Journal Record. Jan. 23, 2017.

Joe Allbaugh wants a lot of money.

Allbaugh, who became the head of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections last year, proposed a $1.65 billion DOC allocation for the 2018 fiscal year, which starts July 1. That’s more than triple the agency’s current budget; the fiscal 2017 allocation was $483.4 million.

“I’ve had several legislators ask me if I’m serious. I’m deadly serious about this,” Allbaugh told The Associated Press in November. “Corrections is a core function of state government. Our No. 1 priority is public safety, and public safety at our facilities is currently at risk.”

He might be serious about the need, but the prisons chief surely doesn’t expect the legislators to grant his wish, especially in the face of the state’s third consecutive budget shortfall.

The biggest request, listed as the lowest priority, is for nearly $849 million to build two new medium-security prisons that would each house 2,000 prisoners. There is a better chance that Mary Fallin will compete in the saddle bronc event at the next prison rodeo than there is of the Legislature paying for those new prisons, but that might not matter much.

Allbaugh came to the Department of Corrections with a pedigree that stretches from two state Capitols to the White House. It speaks directly to his ability to engage political gears.

He knows politics. But the question remains: Is Allbaugh serious?

Citing a 39 percent turnover rate in staff, Allbaugh wants an across-the-board pay raise to slow the race to the exits. Correctional officers make about $12 per hour, putting many in line for public assistance. That 5 percent raise would cost $10 million, and Allbaugh wants $123 million more to repair everything from plumbing to the locks on cell doors.

Nearly a year ago, Allbaugh told Oklahoma Watch that the Oklahoma prison system needed to come into the 21st century. The next thing he said was: “Progress is made in small steps. The first thing I have to do is start telling the story about the department, its condition, its dilapidated facilities.”

Tripling the budget on your first pass isn’t a small step - it’s catapulting across the Pacific Ocean. But it is a sign that he is serious about a first step, and that’s telling the story.

He joins many fellow agency heads who line up to tell their stories every year. We hope this year’s Legislature will not only hear them but respond.

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