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August 14, 2007

Seeking solutions to Oklahoma's prison problems

This AP article from Oklahoma provides more details on Oklahoma's prison overcrowding problems (basics here), while also spotlighting developing responses from key policy-makers.  Here are a few excerpts:

Gov. Brad Henry says policy makers must meet head-on the overcrowding crisis in prisons and end a long cycle of underfunding the Department of Corrections. In an interview, Henry said a mix of programs is needed, including more drug and alcohol treatment and expansion of drug courts, while beefing up maximum-security beds at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary to handle dangerous criminals....

Corrections Director Justin Jones wants to expand the McAlester prison and build a new medium security prison to house 2,400 inmates. The Legislature increased the DOC budget this year to $483 million, but it was not enough to carry the agency through the 12 months of the fiscal year that started July 1. Jones said the agency will need supplemental funding when lawmakers reconvene in February....

Jones recently said inmate overcrowding had hit 98 percent capacity and is probably at the most critical point in three decades because of a lack of options to deal with the problem. He said his only alternative soon will be to back up state inmates in county jails.  Henry said it was premature to consider a special session of the Legislature on the issue, while praising the timing of an Associated Press series of articles on overcrowding and prison problems. "If we don't do something, we will hit that brick wall," he said.

Senate Co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, has opposed prison expansion, while suggesting more utilization of private prisons.  Henry said he agreed with Jones that the state should not become too dependent on private prisons.

August 14, 2007 at 11:51 PM | Permalink


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Interesting to note the options for alleviating prison overcrowding that are apparently not being considered in OK, such as reviewing sentencing policies to determine if people are serving too much time for nonviolent offenses, creating diversion programs for some offenders, expanding rehabilitative facilities, getting treatment for mentally ill offenders, etc. etc. No, no, the only answer on the table is increasing prison facilities, perhaps by handing over public funds to private entities so that they can make a profit off of human misery.

Posted by: defense attorney | Aug 15, 2007 11:23:57 AM

In general I agree with your post. The problem I have is that nonviolent offense is such a broad term that it is difficult in practice to select prison inmates that fall into that category. The Canadians use the term dangerous offender (three convictions of a forcible felony) which is a interesting approach except that the definition of forcible felony includes threats of use of force which in my view makes it too inclusive. On the other hand if the threat is credible maybe it should be included.

Another issue is the sale of street drugs to children. Is that a threat to public safety? Children are in a rapid stage of physical and mental development and the doctors I have talked to are very cautious about administering drugs to children because there is not a lot of data available to allow them to determine the proper dosage. We are completely in the dark when it comes to combination of drugs and drug side effects when they are given to children. We do know that some children who have taken street drugs have suffered death and trauma so there is a risk. I think the risk of trauma (severe enough to require an ER visit) is at least 50 per 100,000 persons in my community for adults and much smaller than that for children.

The death of one child is all it takes to generate legislative hysteria driven by public outrage.

Posted by: JSN | Aug 15, 2007 6:20:24 PM

I agree that there can be reasonable disagreement about the meaning of such terms as "nonviolent offense"; my main point is that apparently Oklahoma is not considering any solution to the prison overcrowding other than -- more prisons!

Posted by: defense attorney | Aug 15, 2007 7:23:13 PM

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Posted by: Steven | Sep 4, 2007 12:10:11 AM

I came across this site whilst looking up something else and was gripped by this thread, I find some peoples attitudes just unbelieveable. Our justice system in the UK is different from that of yours in the US, although having said that all justice systems are based on revenge, we inherited it from the bible ...an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth. We do not any longer have the death penalty in place here, although I would be a supporter of the reinstatement if it was ever put to a public referendum. Anyway thats all going slightly off track, somewhere someone asked what would be considered a low level felony. To me at least it seems quite simple (and you must excuse my lack of knowledge on the US legal system). Someone who takes the life of another with the intention to do so, in my oppinion should expect the death penalty. Sexual abuse, violent crime should not be tolerated and should be punished with felony convictions attached to them. however what kind of system is it that makes a felon of a drug user?. yes it is wrong to use non prescription drugs for leisure, but to make that person a felon?. of course usually with drugs but not exclusively comes other criminal activity, for example some steal to feed their habit, this is however a symptom of the addiction. I have never been an "addict" or have I ?, after all I find it hard to function without my cigarette. Here in the UK it costs us over £700 a week to keep a prisoner in jail, thats $1400 american dollors. So I ask myself what is usually the root cause of drug taking (which ultimately leads to addiction)?. well in my expierience its main cause (but not exclusively) a lack of self worth, which can be brought on for many reasons. being unemployed, depressed, coming from a poor background, or even being the victim of a crime themselves (and there are many other reasons to). so we are prepared as a society to imprison these people at a cost of $1400 a week, and pat each other on the back "what a great job we do by taking one less druggie off the streets!!?" .absolutely disgusting if you ask me. why not take that same $1400 a week and help these people become the members of society that not only we would rather they were but also they would rather be?. So if you want a list of felonys that are low level, drug users in my oppinion are the start of that list, elsewhere someone asks " why do we protct our children from sex offenders but not drug offenders?" I mean really is that a real question?. people take drugs by choice, they do not however ask to be sexually assulted. and so that takes us back to how better to use the money we so willingly allow ourselves to lock these people up with. why not use it for educating the young and improving the prospects of those who are on low incomes or are jobless. millions of dollors, if not billions are spent every year on locking up these "felons", how about making rehab availiable to all regaurdless of how much money they have. your system in the states needs vast improvements, if i fall and break my leg here i get the same treatment as a millionaire who does the same. if i need to see a dentist i see the same one a millionaire would see. I would ask this of you all, what do we gain by locking addicts up? nothing but a tax bill for doing so. and further more we do that then still continue to punish them when they have served the sentence we imposed on them for the crime they committed, which we claim was to repay their debt to society. Their prospects after leaving jail are hindered even further by the fact that they now have a felony conviction against their name. I say down grade drug related crime and send these people into (compulsory rehab) after proving they are clean and after doing their time allow them back into society with regular tests for drugs, allow them education outside of prison, encourage the good in those people and make them feel worthy. I really cant see how labeling someone a felon and knowing that when they leave jail their prospects are even further blighted is productive. cigarette smoking is legal lots of people do it and so there is a supply and demand process in place. the same goes for drug use, people take them so there is a demand which puts in place a supply. if you take out the demand or lower it to a level where the supply chain is not worth as much as it is then that to will collapse. the way to do that is to stop people from feeling the need to turn to drugs in the first place. when we become the victim of a crime its all to easy to tar everyone with the same brush, being the victim of a sexual assult (which is quite rightly a felony) is not a good reason to believe that someone convicted of taking drugs is worthless. What a sad world we live in today where we can so easily turn our backs on people who really are in need of our help, instead of extending that hand we hide the problem in our jails. I would just add that my partner is a "felon" and was convicted and jailed, she used meth and it destroyed her life, she did her time and did get clean and remains so to this day. I honestly have never met another human being with a heart as generous or as caring as hers, and yet there in the states (which is where she is from) her life will always carry that stigma, it will affect the jobs she can apply for along with all the other pitfalls of having a felony against your name. I would hope that for all the people who posted on this thread who are ex users and have gone on to clean up and make good their lives that at some point in the future your records will be scrubbed, in my eyes at least you have paid in more ways than just your liberty being taken, and at some point that deserves to be recognised. for the rest of you who cant see the difference between a murderer, or sex attacker and that of an addict, I hope your god shows you more compasion when your time for judgement comes. (end rant) :)

Posted by: Rob | Sep 6, 2007 11:41:26 AM

My name is Kevin W. Ainsworth and i live in Claremore, Ok. I have been going through the court system here for 1 1/2 years now. I am being put in prison on the 19 of dec for saling weed. I have no violent crimes and this is my first time ever getting in trouble and im getting 5 years in and 5 years out!! My lawyer told me if i do good i MIGHT get out in 2 1/2 years! Anyway im just tring to find out what other people think about this and do u think this is a fare sentence.

Posted by: kevin w. ainsworth | Nov 28, 2007 11:50:31 AM

My friend got 100 years for an auto accident with fatalities and drug charges. First offense on every charge. First trial ended in a hung jury. Jury tried him again and the judge sentenced him to 100 years. Help. Commutation would help this non violent criminal and it would help prison overcrowding even if only by one person. That's why there is overcrowding, the sentences are outrageous. My friend has been incarcerated for over 15 years now and doesn't pose a threat to society. Why not kick him out and use the space for violent repeat offenders? i'm just a citizen.

Posted by: Kelly | Dec 10, 2009 10:01:07 AM

this guy i know in prison got a 125 years for writing 5 hot checks,25 years for each check.oklahoma is a sad excuse of a state,your guilty until proven inocent,1 out of 10 people in that shithole state is felons is there nothing wrong? you people need to vote these fat pig dishonest politicians out of office,oklahoma doesnt give ashit about you its all about putting money in their pockets and living the fat life.oh and another thing wtf is up with afc=after former convictions?you did your time for these old offences how the fuck can they give you more time for past offrences?thats how fucked up oklahoma system is.

Posted by: spiderturd | Dec 22, 2009 10:38:26 AM

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