By Randy Ellis
Flanked by more than a dozen women who have participated in a drug recovery program to divert women from prison, Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday announced a public-private partnership called Pay for Success that is designed to change lives and lower the state's female incarceration rate.
“Government too often pays for programs that it hopes work, but under this arrangement, government will pay for what works,” Fallin said. “Women in Recovery is a cost-effective alternative that improves public safety and helps preserve Oklahoma families. Through this agreement, the state will partner with private entities to expand its success and reduce Oklahoma's unacceptable female incarceration rate in the process.”
Under the program, Tulsa-based Family & Children's Services is required to come up with at least $2 million a year to fund the upfront costs of the program, which provides an intensive outpatient treatment alternative to eligible women facing potential long prison sentences for nonviolent, drug-related offenses.
The state would then provide up to $22,584 in reimbursements to the nonprofit organization for each woman who successfully graduates from the program and doesn't reoffend. Payments would be made in four equal installments of $5,646, with the first installment due when a woman graduates from the program and other installments due 24 months, 36 months and 54 months after the start date if the woman is not re-incarcerated.
“If all four milestones are met by participants of the program, it would cost the state less than $3 million a year over the five-year period of the contract,” said Michael McNutt, the governor's communications director.
Fallin said the program is expected to be a money saver for the state, because the total average cost of incarceration for a woman at a Department of Corrections facility over the average length of stay is $30,133.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation has agreed to continue its financial support for the program as part of its current commitment to prove $1.8 million a year to services that address female incarceration in Tulsa County.
"This is a game-changer for generations to come," said state Sen. Kim David, R-Porter.
Agreeing with that assessment was State Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, who said, "I hope this is a template for things to come in Oklahoma."
Officials said the Pay for Success model has been used to reduce recidivism in 70 projects in 18 countries, including 16 projects in the United States. However, this is the first Pay for Success contract focused on female incarceration.
The additional state funding will enable the Women in Recovery program to serve as many as 125 women a year, officials said.
Program graduate Sonya Pyles and current participant Candida Ulibarri provided passionate descriptions about how the program has changed their lives.
"Without this program, I wouldn't have changed my life. If I wouldn't have changed my life, I wouldn't have changed my children's lives," Ulibarri said. "Now I can pass on recovery, and not addiction. Now I can pass on success."
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles.