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Criminal justice reform task force seeks public input, questioned over transparency

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- A newly formed task force announced this week has been charged with making recommendations on criminal justice reform, but some are questioning its transparency.

The 15-member Criminal Justice Reentry, Supervision, Treatment, and Opportunity Reform (RESTORE) Task Force was created by Gov. Kevin Stitt through an executive order in May. It includes lawmakers, members of law enforcement, and agency leaders.

"I think this is a really important task force. I think the people on it are exactly the people we want on a task force like this," Andy Moore, executive director of Freedom of Information Oklahoma said. "I think it really speaks to Governor Stitt seeing things from the top down saying if we’re going to make change related to criminal justice reform we need to have all those players at the same table."

The group will submit recommendations on criminal justice reform by December 6 for consideration during the next legislative session.

The executive order specifically calls for the task force to look at how to reduce Oklahoma's incarceration rate, reduce the recidivism rate, and enhance and establish diversion programs.

Though seeking public input, the task force meetings will not be public. Moore said this is where concerns come in.

"As a public body, our understanding is this task force is subject to the Open Meeting Act just like any other public body would be," Moore said. "Oklahoma’s one of the least transparent states, and I think this is another example of why that is."

News 4 reached out to the office of Governor Kevin Stitt for clarification on why these meetings were not going to be public.

Citing an Oklahoma Attorney General opinion from 2002, a communications director for Gov. Stitt said the Open Meeting Act doesn't apply, because this task force will only advise and not make actual decisions or rules.

In a statement, we're told:

“The Open Meetings Act only applies to 'public bodies,' which is a term that is specifically defined. This is an executively created task force meant to advise the governor on a defined issue and it is not a statutory 'public body.' The governor looks forward to the robust debate and conversation that will take place around the task force’s recommendations in the future.”

Stitt's office further adds, "This task force is committed to communicating and being transparent about their goals to reform Oklahoma’s criminal justice system and the process of achieving those goals. Secretary Keating studied the past Criminal Justice Task Force to glean from its success and decided to fashion the schedule and guidelines of this task force in similar fashion. As they did, the RESTORE Task Force will meet on a regular basis and will present a product to the public by the end of this year for continued input and full discussion and debate in the Legislature."

Moore told News 4, he believed the process surrounding criminal justice should be open to the public.

"The process of making recommendations means you have to choose what to recommend and what not to recommend and that is a decision," he said. "Governor Stitt ran on a platform of government transparency and we would love to see that put into action in this case."

Anyone wishing to provide input can email RESTORE@sps.ok.gov

Members of the RESTORE task force:
- Chair: Chip Keating, Secretary of Public Safety
- Ex-officio chair: Tricia Everest, chair of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust)
- Attorney General designee: Joy Thorp, senior deputy attorney general and chief of the attorney general’s Tulsa office.
- House Speaker-designee: Rep Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City
- Senate President Pro Tempore-designee: Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher
- Scott Crow, Interim-Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
- Terri White, commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
- Steve Kunzweiler, the state's prosecutor for the Fourteenth Judicial District of Oklahoma
- Kim Garrett, founder and CEO of Palomar in Oklahoma City
- Jari Askins, former lieutenant governor and current Administrative Director of the Courts
- Robert Ravitz, Public Defender of Oklahoma County
- Steven Buck, Secretary of Human Services and Early Childhood Initiatives
- Justin Brown, Director of the Department of Human Services
- Todd Gibson, Sheriff of Cleveland County
- Rhonda Bear, Program Director for Stand in the Gap’s Women in Transition program.
- Kelly Doyle, Pardon and Parole Board member

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