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December 7, 2010

OK prisons not okay because of crowding and costs

OK prisons This recent article in The Oklahoman, which is headlined "Oklahoma lawmakers seek to strike budget balance for prisons; this year marks the 12th year in the past 13 that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has sought emergency funds from the state Legislature," spotlights struggles facing the Sooner system of justice. Here are excerpts from a lengthy and effective piece that helps explain the accompanying picture:

In 1995, long rows of bunk beds replaced game tables, ironing boards and folding chairs in the day rooms where prisoners inside the Eddie Warrior Women's Correctional Center in Taft would sit when someone with a message of hope would come to speak.

“I remember when we put in those bunks and were quoted as saying it would be temporary,” Justin Jones, Oklahoma Department of Corrections director, said. “Here we are in 2010, and they are still there, except now they are stacked two high. In the Department of Corrections, temporary is at least 15 years.”

This year also marks the 12th year in the past 13 that Corrections has sought emergency funds from the state Legislature. Since 1995, the prison population has grown from 17,983 inmates to 26,720 and state appropriations have increased from $188 million to more than $461 million, despite the department having trimmed $76 million from its budget in the past two years. The department estimates it now needs more than $592 million to operate.... With the Legislature's bill-filing deadline for 2011 less than a week away, newly elected Speaker of the House Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, is pushing for a series of short-term steps to reduce the budget strain.... “I think public safety is a top priority in our state and as a result, historically, Oklahoma's answer to that has been incarceration,” Steele said. “It's been kind of a one-size-fits-all approach. Lawmakers have been reluctant to dig in ... nobody wants to be perceived to be soft on crime.”

In addition, supporters of reforms in the criminal justice system that has helped make Oklahoma a state of incarceration — it leads the nation in locking up women on a per-capita basis and is consistently in the top five for incarcerating men — say it has helped reduce Oklahoma's crime rate and improved public safety. “I can tell you from a fiscal standpoint ... (and) from a human resource standpoint we are going to have to do something different,” Steele said.

Steele said three numbers stand out in the research: 68 percent of female offenders aren't a danger to public safety; the state prison system is operating at 99 percent capacity, which means there is little room for more violent offenders; and 70 percent of children with a parent in prison wind up being incarcerated at some point in their lives.

A recent Tulsa World survey also showed strong public support for finding alternatives to incarceration for many nonviolent female offenders and for doing more to help the children they leave behind. Sen. Brian Bingman, the new Senate president pro tem, said he supports “anything that we can do to keep nonviolent criminals out of prisons.”...

Prison officials have maintained for decades the system is overcrowded and underfunded, in large part because offender growth is not funded until after the fact and often is not annualized. The latest unfunded Legislative mandate is the “85 Percent Rule,” which requires persons convicted of certain crimes to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before they can be considered for parole.

Signed into law in 2000, the list of those crimes has grown from 11 to 24 offenses, which Jones said ensures the average prison stay will steadily increase. The number of “85 Percent” offenders already has risen from 53 in December of 2000 to 5,086 in December of 2009.

December 7, 2010 at 08:34 AM | Permalink

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Comments

99% capacity? Does this mean that they can add another level to the bunk beds? It would appear to me that they have exceeded capacity approximately 15 years ago. At least Oklahoma has plenty of land to build more correctional facilities. - Philip Georgiades occupation: human.

Posted by: VA home improvement loan | Dec 7, 2010 7:14:30 PM

11 recs handed to me and the only one with time? The pot possession.

Posted by: Leo Mendus | Dec 7, 2010 8:52:12 PM

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