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 SHINE’s glow extends beyond Oklahoma County

By Charles Taylor
SENIOR STAFF WRITER


Oklahoma County, Okla.’s SHINE Program is turning out to be the gift that keeps on giving. SHINE stands for Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere, and it began in the county in 2010 as a program to divert non-violent offenders to community service instead of jail.
 

Later, it was expanded to include a public service program that provides recognition for graduating students — SHINE for Students — and it has spurred two pieces of state legislation. One passed in 2012 helps to fund programs like SHINE in the state’s counties; the other, passed this year, allows judges to sentence unemployed child support scofflaws to perform some form community service. That makes three offshoots of the program.

SHINE.pngPhoto courtesy of Oklahoma County, Okla.
Brian Maughan, Oklahoma County, Okla. commissioner, surveys a site to be cleaned up by non-violent offenders in the SHINE jail-diversion program.
County Commissioner Brian Maughan has been its chief proponent and cheerleader. He said the program has reduced jail headcounts by up to 80 inmates per day, saving the county more than $1 million annually.

SHINE has been recognized as one of 111 Bright Ideas in government by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance at Harvard University.

“We specialize in what I call problems that were decades in the making,” Maughan said. “That’s really our niche. We don’t tend to do a lot of maintenance or routine patrolling of sites. We really go in and work on areas that people have just identified for years [as] gnarly and hairy and grown over.”

SHINE offers low-level offenders the opportunity to perform community service and work on structured crews to clean up litter, remove graffiti, clear brush, clean up illegal dumps, and perform tasks such as setting up and tearing down seating for community events. Crews range from 20 to 40 offenders each weekday, Maughan said, including those arrested for crimes such as shoplifting and intoxicated driving. Projects they’ve worked on include cleaning up a site where some 2,200 tires were illegally dumped.

Robert Ravitz, Oklahoma County’s chief public defender said he originally took the idea to Maughan almost three years ago, and the commissioner “took the ball and ran with it,” making it into much more than Ravitz ever envisioned.

Recently, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed legislation authorizing courts to require parents who owe child support and are “willingly unemployed” to work two eight-hour days per week in community service programs such as SHINE. It goes into effect later this year. “We are ready and eager to start enrolling any parent sentenced by the judges in SHINE as a way to encourage them to get to work and live up to their responsibilities,” Maughan said.

Last year, the legislature passed another law inspired by the program. In 2012, Maughan said, state lawmakers passed a bill that will assure funding for SHINE and programs like it. The Safari McDoulett Community Service Act allows judges to add a fine of $25 to $250 to the sentences of convicted felons — to be used to fund personnel to supervise community service crews.

McDoulett, who was killed in a car accident last year, worked with Maughan to expand the SHINE Program into the schools. That program continues to flourish.

Anybody who gives 100 hours of voluntary community service before they graduate either high school or college gets a distinguished graduate cord and a certificate from me,” Maughan said. In the program’s first eight months, students completed more than 100,000 hours of community service. It took the jail-diversion program 18 months to rack up as many hours. “So the students really became the rock stars of the entire program,” he said.

Ravitz said programs that provide alternatives to incarceration are beneficial to offenders and to society. “Offenders that do the work for SHINE get a sense of pride in the community,” he said, and the program provides judges and prosecutors with an additional tool in the administration of justice.

For counties interested in starting a similar program, Maughan said he’s willing to share. “We have all of the documents; no sense in anybody having to reinvent the wheel.”

He also offered this advice: “I would implore them to review an option like this in their county. It just costs so much money to incarcerate these individuals where they’re not being productive. Now we’re saving money by not incarcerating them and forcing them to be productive. So it’s a win-win scenario.”

How SHINE Works

SHINE participants can be sentenced by Oklahoma County judges to perform as comparatively few as 40 hours of community service up to 2,000 hours, according to Myles Davidson, a county special projects coordinator.

SHINE supervisors know weeks in advance which projects will be undertaken — whether removing graffiti, setting up for county events or clearing overgrown areas. Davidson said many projects are suggested by schools, neighborhoods, residents and elected officials.

Each morning, those sentenced to community service gather near a local fast-food restaurant adjacent to two bus stops, to make it easier for those who depend on public transportation. The workers are told that day of what they’ll be doing.

“We inform them to wear appropriate clothing and bring gloves,” Davidson said in an email. “We provide other necessary safety equipment that may be needed according to the job.”

Two 15-passenger vans transport crews to worksites, with one supervisor for about every 15 workers.