Oklahoma is aiming to be one of the most aggressive prison reformers after introducing an anticipated report by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force today.
The report comes after the bi-partisan task force, put together by Republican Governor Mary Fallin, combed through the states courts and prisons to determine how best to reduce crime with limited resources. Their recommendations are ambitious: aiming to avert $1.9 billion in prison costs over 10 years.
They would achieve this by reducing the projected prison population increase by over 9,000 beds.
Oklahoma’s prison population is estimated to increase 25% through 2016 if no actions are taken, from 28,000 prison beds to 36,000. The worst part? The Sooner State’s prisons are filled with nonviolent offenders. Only 25% of admissions into the prison system are for violent offenses. This means that scarce resources are being spent to warehouse nonviolent offenders while the state deals with an unsustainable budget deficit.
There are already reforms being implemented. Last year the state’s voters approved state questions 780 and 781 by high margins. The proposals de-felonize simple drug possession while reinvesting the subsequent savings in rehabilitation programs.
Gov. Fallin stressed the need for major reform given the state’s fiscal situation in a press release earlier today
Oklahoma is in a crisis as our current prison population greatly exceeds capacity, and we have the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country, with the highest rate for women. Without change, our prison population will increase by 25 percent, and will require three more prisons to be built or contracted.
Oklahoma is dealing with a $870 million budget hole. Actions must be taken to reign in wasteful spending: crime policies that make it more likely for an offender to commit more crimes must be changed.
The Report recommends multiple policies pioneered in other red states like Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Utah among others. The report proposes adjusting drug sentences to focus on violent and serious drug traffickers, expanding access to cheaper alternatives to incarceration, expanding parole supervision, and better support for victims of crimes.
ATR, along with four other center-right organizations, sent Gov. Fallin a letter expressing our support for smarter justice practices. As we stated before,
We applaud your Executive Order establishing and charging the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force to examine the research, data, and best practices in criminal justice and to recommend policies that improve public safety and hold those who have committed crime accountable while safely reducing the prison population.
We encourage leaders in the state capitol to take up the proposed reforms as soon as possible. Oklahoma can continue to be a leader on justice reform, this report proves it.
Photo Credit: Kelly