By State Rep. John Talley

(District 33 Payne County) –This past month has been busy with activities in District 33 and throughout the state!

Warden Raymond Byrd asked me to facilitate a team-building with inmates at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, so I coordinated 15 volunteers to join us and participate. Criminal justice reform consumed much of our discussion during session this year, so it’s a great benefit for me to speak directly with prisoners to discuss the barriers they face rejoining society as positive, productive citizens after finishing their sentence.

A recurring point is the difficulty obtaining an official picture identification, which is needed to expedite obtaining their birth certificate and a driver’s license. These tools are necessary to rejoin the workforce.

We must continue to view our status as the highest incarceration rate in the world not as representative of the citizens of Oklahoma, but as an indication that changes must occur. The best solutions will be reached if we hear all the voices at the table, continue to incarcerate those who are a threat to citizens, and assist those who are released with the means to achieve the best possible start after they serve their time.

Also recently, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister asked me to serve on her rules committee for schools, which is part of Senate Bill 441 passed during session. The bill requires a minimum number of 165 calendar days and calls for an education committee to create standards to evaluate all districts. Over 50% of tax dollars go toward public education. With the increases in state revenues comes more dedicated funds. The duty of the Legislature is to require objective, transparent standards of the use of those funds being dedicated to our students.

I also recently met with Steven Buck, the executive director of Oklahoma’s Office of Juvenile Affairs. We toured the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh together and discussed the importance of addressing the underlying issues, such as education, poverty, and drug use, which play a role in juveniles entering our criminal justice system.

Oklahoma ranks highest in the nation in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), which the Tulsa World recently highlighted in an excellent series. Not only do childhood traumatic events put an extra element of challenges in our juvenile systems, they also bring greater responsibilities for our classroom teachers.

Resilient Payne County has done an excellent job educating Oklahomans on ACES and its effects. On July 24th, from 8:30-10:30 a.m., they are hosting a free session on ACES. Annette Jacobi, Director of Oklahoma Commission of Children and Youth, and Clayton Lodes, Board Member of Ardmore Behavioral Health, will be guest speakers.

On a final note, Mira Broyles is my most recent recipient of the Unsung Hero Award, which recognizes people who do terrific things but may otherwise go unnoticed. Mira started a food pantry in Perkins at the First United Methodist Church. The pantry is open at 5:30 p.m. one Monday a month. It’s an honor to recognize this caring and dedicated public servant.

Thank you for the privilege of serving you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me. My cell number is (405) 742-8040 or by e-mail [email protected].