Thursday, May 18th 2023, 10:23 pm
Criticism has been strong against the Department of Corrections since the Jesse McFadden case.
The director at DOC has only been on the job for six months, but takes the criticism to heart.
McFadden was released after serving 17 of his 20 year sentence, and was charged with using a contraband cell phone while in prison to sext a teenage girl.
McFadden was out for two and a half years when he murdered his wife, her three children, their two friends, and then killed himself.
Steve Harpe was an executive with American Airlines for years and has served in several roles under Governor Kevin Stitt, including the State's Chief Operating Officer.
He was put in charge of DOC last October, overseeing 3,500 employees and nearly 22,000 prisoners.
"The only way to change this culture and the perception of the agency is challenge everything we do," Harpe said.
His goal is for DOC to change lives. He wants the 6,400 people released from prison a year, to be successful at home, in jobs, and become productive members of society; and never come back.
He said offering credits to prisoners is an incentive for them to follow the rules, take a class, and learn a skill while behind bars. One credit is one day and there are levels.
Level 2, when they come to prison, offers 22 credits per month.
After six months, they can move to Level 3, with a credit of 33 days per month.
Eight months after that, they can move to Level 4, which offers 44 days credit per month served.
There's enhanced levels that offer up to 60 days for every 30 served.
"The vast majority of folks that come out of state prisons are productive. The state of Oklahoma's recidivism rate is the best in the nation. A lot of people don't know this, but, it's 15.6 percent. Compared to everyone, we crush it," Harpe said.
One area he wants to improve, is when a prisoner commits an infraction, especially one of the 25 Class-X infractions, which include sexual misconduct, rape, and physical violence.
Currently, a committee at each prison decides the punishment for the prisoner.
However, Harpe just created an executive position on his team that will oversee those cases. The cases will now come straight to Harpe and his team to be discussed every week.
"This McFadden case is tragic and no one wants to see a repeat of that. We're all working together to figure out what the next steps are," Harpe said.
One step is to make five recommendations to the board next week, including how to crack down on those who break the rules.
Right now, only 365 credits can be taken away from a prisoner. But Harpe wants to change that, to where all credits can be taken.
"When someone has 8,000 credits they've earned and you're only pulling 360, I want to be able to pull all of them or half. I want the discretion to make sure for something that's a serious infraction that we're taking those and making them start over," Harpe explained.
They can also restrict a prisoner's visitation for a year, take away their calls, and their tablet.
He said even if DOC would've removed McFadden's credits in 2017, when he was caught with a contraband cell phone, he likely would've earned enough to be released on the same date.
He said no one inside or outside of a prison can predict what someone will do once released. However, he understands the McFadden case is still devastating for citizens and victims' families.
Harpe has two daughters himself.
"They're both in their 20s and it would be extremely hard to deal with if that happened to my own girls. So again, a lot of people here are committed to see that as something we have to improve on and we will," Harpe said.
He doesn't deny there have been problems lately, but said they're all committed to keeping citizens safe and helping prisoners succeed.
"We're freely not letting people go. If we knew there was a risk of any of this, we would pull back and absolutely make sure we keep them inside," Harpe said.
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