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October 10, 2011

Oklahoma using electronic monitoring to enable earlier prisoner releases

As detailed in this interesting local article, headlined "Hundreds of Oklahoma prisoners could be released Nov. 1," a notable sentencing reform plan incorporating technocorrections goes into effect this week in the Sooner State.  Here are the particulars (along with the usual expressions of concern from the tough-on-crime crowd):

Oklahoma corrections officials say they are preparing to put as many as 250 to 300 inmates in ankle monitors and release them. Prosecutors throughout the state are upset.

The inmates, convicted of nonviolent offenses, are set to be released starting Nov. 1. That is when a new law intended to relieve prison overcrowding goes into effect.  The law changes when certain nonviolent inmates become eligible for ankle monitors.

“I suspect that many — if not most — of the legislators that voted for this didn't realize it was going to have the result of releasing several hundred inmates on Nov. 1,” said Michael Fields, district attorney for Blaine, Canadian, Garfield, Grant and Kingfisher counties.

“I have a hard time believing that legislators understood that whenever they agreed to vote for this law,” Fields said.  “I doubt that would have been their intent because many of those legislators are our allies on public safety issues. I think that this clearly does undermine public safety.”

House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said the goal actually is to increase public safety. He said the change will put more low-risk, mostly female inmates into the successful electronic monitoring program so corrections officials can focus their limited resources on inmates who are truly threats to society....

Currently, in general, no nonviolent inmate is eligible for an ankle monitor until he gets down to the last 11 months of his sentence. Starting Nov. 1, offenders with sentences of five years or less become eligible once they have served 90 days, if no other restrictions apply.

Prosecutors said Friday public confidence in sentences will be undermined if quick releases start happening. “Then, I will stop sending people to prison for less than five years,” said Greg Mashburn, district attorney for Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties. “I mean, I'll have no choice. If I intended them to go to prison, I intended them to stay for more than 90 days. I will absolutely adjust what I'm doing on my cases so this isn't happening.”

Mashburn said ankle monitors haven't worked well in his counties. He recalled three instances where offenders on ankle monitors committed crimes. “Ankle monitors, it's not the great answer. ... A lot of people think, ‘Well, if they're on an ankle monitor, we can stop them from committing crimes.' All we're going to be able do is know where they were when they were committing the crime,” Mashburn said.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said he worries whether the overburdened and underfunded Corrections Department will have enough officers to keep track of the hundreds of new inmates on ankle monitors. “It's almost impossible for them to adequately supervise even people on probation,” Prater said. “There's no way that the Department of Corrections has the capability to adequately supervise those prisoners on ankle monitors and assure the public that they will be kept safe.”

Corrections Department Director Justin Jones said few inmates will get ankle monitors after only 90 days. Most will need more time. “It would be the exception and not the rule,” Jones said. “Some needs are going to have to be addressed … before we put them into a re-entry program. … Rational behavior training, substance abuse, anger management, parenting skills, fatherhood skills, those kinds of things.”

Corrections officials originally came up with a list of 1,133 nonviolent offenders already serving sentences to be considered for ankle monitors because of the new law.

The original list included burglars, drug offenders, embezzlers, drunken drivers and thieves. Officials have been eliminating from that list inmates who do not qualify for ankle monitors for other reasons, such as they have no suitable residences where they can go.

Prosecutors say they have been told as many as 600 inmates will get ankle monitors Nov. 1. But the Corrections Department director said the list is now down to around 400 and will probably be cut down to 250 to 300.

“We consider it a very successful re-entry program,” Jones said. “And it is controlled. And it is custody because of the devices and the supervision by an officer.” The director said more than 90 percent of the females who get ankle monitors succeed and 86 percent of the males do....

About 450 convicts already are on ankle monitors, a Corrections Department spokesman said. Their movements are tracked by GPS.  The House speaker and Corrections Department director both said most of the inmates who will be getting ankle monitors Nov. 1 are already in halfway houses and other community correction centers. Steele said he understands more officers have been hired to track their movements. “I really do think it's much ado about nothing,” Steele said of prosecutors' concerns.

Whatever Oklahoma prosecutors might say say about what they think their state legislators did not realize, I suspect somebody behind this legislation concluded that it was more politically palatable than raising taxes to pay for more prison beds.  (I have long thought that if state sentencing reforms included an automatic increase in prosecutorial funding based on a percentage of savings that come from decreases in incarceration levels, prosecutors would not always have such a predictable reaction to sentencing reforms that result in some early releases.)

October 10, 2011 at 06:06 PM | Permalink


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So let me get this straight, other instances where this practice has been tried haven't worked because a prosecutor can point to 3 cases of a crime being committed while the ankle bracelet was being used? That might be important if I knew how many criminals were being monitored as well as the average recidivism rate of those convicted of similar crimes. Also, I would argue that, as Mr. Mashburn points out, because we know the location of the crimes committed by someone dumb enough to engage in criminal activity while wearing an ankle monitor, the program is a cost-effective way to determine what non-violent criminals are actually repeat offenders and deserve extended jail time. Spending less money to have a more judicious/morally liable jail population seems like a swell idea to me.

It is also somewhat troubling that Mr. Mashburn's prosecutorial strategy will now include overcharging individuals who he believes deserve jail time. It is but a small window into the power held by prosecutors, and yet Mr. Mashburn's colleague Mr. Fields decries the action of "his allies" in the legislature.

Posted by: Kevin S | Oct 10, 2011 10:25:16 PM

Why not shift all these people to drug court where they can be monitored directly and receive the training in the differing areas of recovery and adaptation back into society.
In our area there is a very good drug court . It might be possible the state is worried about the cost it might have to give to the drug courts and co-operation with parole and law enforcement .

Carl, addict

Posted by: carl | Oct 30, 2011 8:06:45 PM

this is a good deal i dont know about the robbery. But am tired of our taxes going on inmates. becaues these people can be rehability.And put into some sort of traing. The prisons are making a lots of money for people who not a threat to society. Put the murders,rapist,child abuse,robbery,sex offenders, gangs member, lock them up. come on let help people that can be help. Am a student.

Posted by: donna jackson | Nov 9, 2011 3:29:25 PM

How can I find out what it costs for an inmate to wear the monitor? My nephew may be a candidate to wear one but heard that he would have to pay more than $400 per month to be able to do so. He will have a hard time finding work, much less pay child support, living expenses and pay for an ankle monitor but is certainly not looking forward to time in prison for a non-violent offense, not sure he would be eligible since his sentence was 6 years...

Posted by: Debra | Nov 29, 2011 5:21:34 AM

My concern is that if the prisons remained overcrowded, what happens to the violent offenders when it comes time for their sentences to become nearer release into a lower facility? How then would it be possible for them to gain any type of reentry to society? I like, any other concerned parent, wife agree that they need to be held accountable for their mistakes, but do believe that they should be afforded the same opportunity to move forward as well. Not saying that ankle monitoring is the only solution but it does sound feasible to an ongoing overcrowding population issue. If the nonviolent offenders are moved up, then the violent offenders could at least have something to look forward to.

Posted by: LaDonna, parent\wife | Jun 4, 2013 2:51:58 PM

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