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Agricultural News

Proposed Cedar Control Program Offers Incentive to Prisoners

Fri, 23 Jan 2015 15:46:24 CST

Proposed Cedar Control Program Offers Incentive to Prisoners
State Rep. Richard Morrissette has filed House Bill 1076, the Oklahoma Cedar Control Project and Hope for Tomorrow Fund, to incentivize the removal of Eastern redcedar and offer prisoners and the Department of Corrections some relief.

"Communities will continue to suffer with increases in petty crime, gangs and worse until we stop manufacturing future inmates," the Oklahoma City Democrat said. "Our delayed response to the needs of Oklahoma's children drives an ever-growing adult prison population," said Morrissette, whose legislation is designed to address prison crowding and recidivism.

"Once a child has been left malnourished, with no solid base to grow a healthy mind and body, the system is left to manage that adult-child on the back end, often from within our Department of Corrections," Morrissette said. "Those from the not-for-profit sector who are frustrated with our system of corrections, who very much want to do something constructive and become participants in smart-on-crime programs, will find it a wise investment to contribute to the Hope for Tomorrow fund. Money placed in the fund would target recidivism by addressing the work ethic and educational needs of our castaway kids."

The state Corrections Department reportedly has experienced an increase in officer resignations and unfilled positions DOC's own records show it can afford a staffing level of just 67% at its penal institutions "and low salaries are the primary issue," Morrissette said. "That issue isn't going away any time soon, with our present budget shortfall. Getting inmates into the routine of being responsible, having something constructive to do and something important and life-changing to look forward to, could really have a long-term positive impact."

The Oklahoma Cedar Control Project, proposed in HB 1076, would create a funding mechanism to assist with costs involved in the use of inmate labor by state and county officials for the harvest of the costly Eastern redcedar.

The Forestry Services Division of the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry is performing a forest inventory analysis, gathering data about the various tree species throughout Oklahoma. Research to date indicates that three million to four million acres of Oklahoma land are covered with Eastern redcedar, Forestry Services Director George Geissler said.

The Cedar Control Project would direct those municipalities in charge of managing public spaces where cedar infestation has occurred, to access cedar removal equipment through state contracts at a significant savings and put that equipment in the hands of low-risk offenders through the Prisoner Public Works program. Private individuals whose private property is infested with cedar also could apply for prison labor to harvest the trees. Those inmates who successfully complete work-release would be eligible to receive education in the form of trade school or college courses with certain costs covered by the fund, with the hope of lowering the recidivism rate.

"We can't just charge up to the prisons and open the doors to alleviate this problem. We are in a mess that took quite awhile to create," said Morrissette, a member of the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Procedure. "Beginning with making our children the priority, we will soon see a difference."



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