Inside Oklahoma's Probation System

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OKLAHOMA -- Oklahoma's incarceration statistics are staggering: the state ranks fourth nationally for incarcerated men and first for incarcerated women.

So is Oklahoma's probation system keeping convicted offenders out of prison?

News 12 looked into it and found that because there are no state mandated requirements whatsoever, offenders can merely check-in with their probation supervisor through the mail and anyone -- without special training -- can oversee probation.

We spoke with four local Oklahoma district attorneys to learn how they supervise probation. Each of these district attorneys told us that they require offenders to comply with the conditions of probation required by the court.

All of them say that they allow offenders to check-in with their probation supervisor via mail, but most report in person.

Two out of four of these offices don't have specially trained personnel overseeing probation.

Just this month, District 19 Attorney Emily Redman hired a specially trained officer to oversee probations.

"He also is responsible for doing the random urinalysis and things that take more training and more law enforcement knowledge," Redman said.

District 17 Attorney Mark Matloff says his office has an employee with more than 15 years of law enforcement experience overseeing their probations.

But District 20 Attorney Craig Ladd and District 22 Attorney Chris Ross don't have trained probation supervisors. Ross says his office doesn't have the funds to hire a specific person for the task. Ladd says because most of the probationers in his district are misdemeanor offenders, his office doesn't need specially trained personnel to handle their program.

Probation supervision is relatively new for Oklahoma district attorneys.

In 2005, Oklahoma legislators established the District Attorney Supervision Program, which gave district attorney's offices the authority to oversee probations.

Before that, felons were supervised by DOC, but most people convicted of misdemeanors were not supervised.

"Those people weren't being supervised at all. There was no supervision to determine if they were really going to their counseling that the court ordered, if they were really paying their fines as the court ordered," Redman said.

That legislation also allowed district attorney's to collect on monthly probation supervision fees, generating more income for their offices.

In 2012, that meant a total of $15.3 million dollars for District Attorney's offices statewide.

Less than half of th e funding for district attorney's offices comes from the government. The rest, the office must come up with.

Ross says if the probation supervision dollars disappeared, their doors would close.

But it's not just district attorneys making ends meet with probation fees. That same 2005 legislation also authorized private entities to supervise probations.

Justin Humphrey has built his business, Last Chance Probation in Atoka, around that.

"We focus on drug and alcohols because we believe that's what's behind most of our crimes committed here in Oklahoma," Humphrey said.

Humphrey says offenders supervised by Last Chance Probation are drug tested more frequently on their state of the art drug testing machines.

But some district attorneys are concerned that these private entities will take away their probation fee income.

District 21 Attorney Greg Mashburn is proposing legislation that would require offenders to pay the DA's office, regardless of whether the office is supervising their probation.

"The offender will be charged with paying us $40 a month to recoup the charge of prosecuting them and to compensate us for monitoring their probation to see if they're successful or not," Mashburn said.

Again, the way the law is written now, anyone is able to supervise probations.

The question is -- is this probation system keeping Oklahomans out of prison or is it focused on making ends meet for District Attorney's Offices?

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