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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

January 29, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Stillwater News Press. Jan. 27, 2019.

— Fooling all the people all the time

We can’t call them trends if they happen all the time. It just life. We get minor reprieves, can enjoy much of our time on this planet, but then get slammed back into reality at just how truly awful we can be to each other. Our latest entry into the carnival of the absurd comes from our nation’s capital where Catholic schoolboys, indigenous activists and some group known as Black Israelites converged under the big top.

It strikes us not at all odd that the coverage we saw led to so many virtual dustups. The first, short video, showed an easy-to-follow narrative. A boy in a “Make America Great Again” cap smugly smiled as a native man drummed. But, for a moment at least, that was the only one we had, but boy oh boy, did we run with it.

Even as the tempest swelled and coverage continued with more videos emerging, many people still kind of saw what they wanted to see. Many missed a lot and learned very little.

Right now, our big takeaway should be the origination of the video and how crazy that is. A Twitter account grabbed the video from the Instagram of a person who was there. The Twitter account’s sole purpose of existing was to manipulate people, and we all took the bait. It was an account, now terminated, only meant to sow divisiveness. If you believe nothing else about the 2016 election believe that it is, in fact, very easy to fool us. Celebrities, political pundits and everyday folk made it viral because it gave them a chance to shame and crucify someone.

That’s the second takeaway — we’re still forming a kind of frontier justice in the way we shame people, often before knowing all the details. We all have to look inward there. It’s awful that we participate in these virtual mobs by the millions. We are sentencing people when we do that, but we can’t seem to stop ourselves.

Our third takeaway is this, that there doesn’t have to be any “good guys” in an ugly situation. Of the groups that converged on each other that day, they were all very far from polite. Chances are you don’t have to look very hard in any direction to find someone acting like a maniac at a political rally, so we really don’t need to find narrative-supporting videos or photos at these events — but as long as it’s popular, it’s going to happen over and over again.

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The Oklahoman. Jan. 29, 2019.

— Lifting Pell Grant ban for prisoners should be pursued

Oklahoma is among the many states that have approved criminal justice reform legislation in recent years, and continue to pursue it. Congress has an opportunity to help advance these efforts by reinstating federal Pell Grants for prisoners.

The grants were banned in 1994 as part of a crime bill signed by President Bill Clinton. Four years ago, the Obama administration created a pilot program that made Pell grants available to 12,000 prisoners. Results are encouraging.

In a recent article in USA Today, the heads of the Michigan and Pennsylvania departments of correction wrote about their states’ experiences as beneficiaries of the pilot program.

“We’ve watched people who have cycled in and out of prison become immersed in textbooks and seen people who carry a deep shame from the stigma of incarceration gain a sense of self-respect and confidence for the first time in their lives,” wrote Heidi Washington and John Wetzel.

They cited a 2013 RAND Corporation study that showed when prisoners get some form of education help, such as postsecondary courses, they were 43 percent less likely to reoffend than prisoners who don’t. That figures: Finding work is a vital piece in keeping ex-convicts from re-offending, and education is vital to finding work.

Washington and Wetzel also noted that, combined, their states spend more than $3 billion per year operating their prison systems. Meantime, they wrote, RAND estimated that every dollar invested in prison education generates savings of $4 to $5 in reduced recidivism rates.

Making Pell grants available again to prisoners makes sense in another way — about nine out of 10 inmates will eventually be released. Why not provide them the opportunity to improve their chances once they re-enter society?

The Vera Institute of Justice, which has helped guide justice reform efforts in Oklahoma County, teamed with the Georgetown Center on Inequality and Poverty to study the benefits of postsecondary education behind bars. They found that, in Oklahoma, repealing the Pell Grant ban would increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated female students by 4.4 percent and male students by 4.8 percent.

Combined earnings among all formerly incarcerated people in Oklahoma would increase by nearly $1 million during the first year of release, their report found. The two organizations estimated Oklahoma would save $2.4 million per year in prison costs as the result of a lower recidivism rate.

And, they noted that a parent’s postsecondary education improves the likelihood that his or her children will seek a degree or certificate, disrupting cycles of poverty and incarceration within families.

“What no report or data can truly capture, however,” their study said, “is how postsecondary education in prison can empower people and provide them with a newfound sense of hope and confidence, which positively impacts the communities within prison and those outside of prison to which many will return.”

Congress recently approved the First Step Act, a worthwhile criminal justice reform bill. Restoring Pell Grant eligibility for inmates would be a good follow-up.

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Tulsa World. Jan. 29, 2019.

— The shutdown ends, for now but no one wins so long as the nation remains on tenterhooks

Late last week, Congress passed and President Trump signed a continuing resolution that will fund the government for three weeks and return federal employees to their jobs, for now.

Thousands of federal workers who had been furloughed for more than a month and thousands more who had been on the job but unpaid will finally get back to normal.

President Trump didn’t get any more funding for the border wall he had demanded, which many interpreted as a victory for Congressional Democrats. We don’t see it that way. Restoring the orderly function of the federal government is a victory to the nation. If Trump was the one who blinked, it was a moment of brief maturity in a long showdown where neither side had been acting in the nation’s best interest.

Sadly, another crisis could be just around the corner.

In announcing his decision to accept the temporary funding, Trump said he could order another partial shutdown starting Feb. 15 if Congressional Democrats don’t agree to his border security funding demands. Alternatively, he could fund his wall through an emergency diversion of funds from other appropriations, a move that would certainly lead to a court battle.

The nation breathed a sigh of relief with the end of the immediate crisis. Our airports no longer feel like disasters waiting to happen. The shame of expecting our Coast Guard, Border Patrol and FBI to do their duty without compensation is over for now.

But if the acute budget crisis has passed, it only went into a chronic state and could easily go Code Blue again much too soon.

A short-term continuing resolution solves too little, especially if both sides wrongly see a government shutdown as a legitimate means of accomplishing political ends. Wall funding remains unresolved; Washington remains divided, and our nation hangs on tenterhooks.

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