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.