Criminal justice reform is expected to be one of the main issues in this year's Oklahoma legislative session, which begins Feb. 2. State leaders agree that many nonviolent criminal offenders suffering from mental illness or drug addiction should be diverted to treatment programs instead of to the state’s overcrowded, understaffed and expensive prison system, reports the Oklahoman. But they are concerned about the costs.
Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the country for women and is in the top five for men. Half of its 27,000 inmates are in prison for nonviolent crimes. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2012, allows people convicted of a nonviolent felony to be sent to a drug court or mental health court instead of to prison. But funding for the reforms has lagged, and the state health commissioner is seeking $9.2 million to expand mental health courts and to better screen offenders for possible diversion, among other things.