Interim study explores improving probation and parole services (Capitol Update)

Rep. J.J. Humphrey, R-Lane, Chair of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, is determined to use his background in corrections work to help reform criminal justice in Oklahoma. Before his election to the legislature, the third-term representative worked for the Department of Corrections (DOC) for 20 years in several capacities, including serving as a probation officer. Later he was administrator of the Atoka/Coal County drug court program and owner of a private company that contracted drug court supervision and private probation services.  

Humphrey sponsored a nearly six-hour interim study in his committee last week to look at how to improve probation and parole services, specifically addressing State Question 780 that changed simple drug possession and small-time theft offenses to misdemeanors. Some district attorneys and law enforcement contend that misdemeanor charges do not provide a sufficient threat to incentivize people with substance abuse problems to seek treatment. 

The current drug court law requires a judge to have the district attorney’s permission to admit a defendant into the drug court program. To get that permission, offenders must agree to a plea deal, often harsh, with the district attorney that is subject to revocation if the defendant relapses and fails the treatment program. With this setup some offenders do receive successful treatment. However, others end up in prison as the result of the deal they were forced to make to get into treatment. Humphrey says he wants to change the drug court law “to keep district attorneys from using drug court as a tool and not its intended purpose.”  

Humphrey also wants to create a new structure for community supervision following the Texas model of judicial districts. Humphrey’s legislative district borders Texas. Humphrey says because district attorneys determine what charges to file and receive funding based on case outcomes, they have a conflict of interest. DA supervision fees were created to help fund district attorney offices, but they provide little supervision or guidance to probationers. 

Humphrey also says DOC probation services are often ineffective and poorly funded. Under the Texas plan proposed by Humphrey, each judicial district would have a community supervision board led by the judge and composed of various stakeholders. State funding would go to the board who would provide “real” supervision ensuring employment and treatment as needed. The Community Board would be accountable to DOC. Humphrey says the money funding the current system would fund the new, better system. While some may not agree with his proposals, Humphrey seems flexible, and he is experienced enough to evaluate the opinions of officials defending the status quo.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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