- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman. Sept. 15, 2019.

- Increase in Oklahoma paroles not cause for alarm

Combine criminal justice reform with new people on the state Pardon and Parole Board and different approaches to the board’s work, and you get what Oklahoma is seeing - a jump in the number of recommendations for parole or for sentence commutations.

Some will see this trend as disconcerting, which is natural. The more people who are set free from prison, the greater the likelihood that someone will reoffend, and perhaps in a way that harms others.



Yet it’s also true that the difficulty in winning parole, a longstanding problem that has helped make Oklahoma’s incarceration rate No. 1 in the nation, has led countless inmates to forgo the process and opt instead to serve their full term, knowing that once they’re released they’ll be free of any supervision. How beneficial is that to the inmate or the community?

A 2007 performance audit of the prison system said Oklahoma’s offender population - those in prison, on parole or on probation - were all expected to grow short term and long term. The increase, auditors said, was being driven by longer lengths of stay, a low rate of paroles being granted, and the governor’s involvement in the review of all parole recommendations.

Voters addressed the latter problem several years later by removing the governor from parole recommendations involving nonviolent offenders. In 2016, voters took another step by approving State Question 780, which reclassified most drug possession crimes and some property crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

That change resulted in a flood of requests for commutations. From March through August, the parole board recommended commutation for 140 inmates, compared with just 10 during the same span in 2018, the Tulsa World reports. The governor has final say on those recommendations.

The parole board also issued 436 parole recommendations from March through August, compared with 309 a year earlier.

Steven Bickley, appointed the board’s executive director in July by Gov. Kevin Stitt, points to the change in state law to explain the increase in commutations, and a change in attitude among board members - three of them Stitt appointees - for the increase in parole recommendations.

Inmates now have “a sense of hope,” Bickley says, “and you think about hope and how important that is to the rehabilitation of people and the mental health of people. It’s a powerful force for good.”

Bickley also credits the leadership of board member Allen McCall, a former longtime district judge who was appointed former Gov. Mary Fallin in 2017. McCall told the World the process must be fair to all - inmates, victims, prosecutors and defense attorneys - but that a new attitude about criminal justice is evident in the state.

Time will tell if the board “went a little overboard” McCall said. “But we have to do something different because what we’ve done the past 30 years hasn’t really worked.” Truer words were never spoken.

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Enid News & Eagle. Sept. 16, 2019.

- Tough stance on cyberbullying is necessary

We are glad to see that Oklahoma is strengthening its laws concerning cyberbullying.

Starting Nov. 1, state law will make it unlawful for anyone to use a telecommunication or other electronic communication device to:

- Make any comment, request, suggestion or proposal that is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent.

- Make a telecommunication or other electronic communication including text, sound or images with intent to terrify, intimidate or harass, or threaten to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or property of that person.

- Make a telecommunication or other electronic communication, whether or not conversation ensues, with intent to put the party called in fear of physical harm or death.

- Make a telecommunication or other electronic communication, including text, sound or images whether or not conversation ensues, without disclosing the identity of the person making the call or communication and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person at the called number.

- Knowingly permit any telecommunication or other electronic communication under the control of the person to be used for any purpose prohibited by this section.

- In conspiracy or concerted action with others, makes repeated calls or electronic communications or simultaneous calls or electronic communications solely to harass any person at the called number(s).

A first offense conviction is a misdemeanor. Any second or subsequent offense is a felony.

If anything, we wouldn’t have minded seeing it be a felony crime upon first conviction, but we like that this has been spelled out in law.

Cyberbullying reared its ugly head recently when several Enid High School students, and at least one student from another school district, engaged in some unsavory activity via the social media site Snapchat. Students were disciplined, but federal privacy laws prohibited Enid Public Schools officials from saying what actions were taken.

EPS has rules against cyberbullying that its students and employees must follow. Other school districts have similar rules.

The EPS policy states: “The district may revoke the privilege of board members, students, staff or patrons who use district equipment or electronic communication system to engage in Cyberbullying, The district may revoke the privilege of any board members, students, staff or patrons who use a personal communication device to engage in Cyberbullying, to bring any personal communication device on district property or district-sponsored activities.”

Vigorous application of the rules against cyberbullying is needed at the school level. While we won’t be able to totally eradicate the problem, maintaining a tough stance, by school officials and law enforcement, will go a long way to discouraging teens from doing this sort of thing.

It also can’t hurt that state law spells out the consequences as well.

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Tulsa World. Sept. 17, 2019.

- Another bad statistic shows Oklahoma is making itself poorer and sicker

For the second consecutive year, only one state - Texas - has a higher rate of uninsured residents than Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is one of 14 states that has steadfastly refused to accept available federal funding to provide Medicaid coverage for working-age people living in poverty.

As a result, 14.2% of the state’s population didn’t have health care coverage in 2018, according to Census Bureau numbers we first saw reported in The Oklahoman.

Those numbers are significant for everyone, including the 85.8% of the state’s population that has health care coverage.

Every Oklahoman needs a financially solvent hospital system, a healthy workforce and emergency rooms that aren’t choked with indigent people seeking care from the provider of last choice. Insured Oklahomans should wake up to the fact that other people’s unpaid hospital bills mean higher prices for their own hospital care and, therefore, higher insurance premiums.

Public funding of health care works. Ten years ago, Oklahoma had an uninsured rate of 21.4% - more than 7 points higher than the current rate. What made the difference? Opening federally subsidized marketplaces for private insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

But people below the poverty line aren’t eligible for the program; and because Oklahoma has refused to accept Medicaid expansion funding, those people have no alternative beyond hospital emergency rooms and charity care.

Other states that have accepted federal Medicaid funding have dramatically reduced their uninsured rates. Arkansas, for example, had a 19.8% uninsured rate in 2008. After Medicaid expansion, Arkansas’ rate is down to 8.2%.

Oklahomans are paying for Medicaid expansion in 36 other states and Washington, D.C., but not getting to take advantage of it because of political obstinacy. As a result, we are poorer, sicker and less able to move ahead.

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