OK Panel Seeks Sentence Cuts to Curb Prison Growth

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Faced with a rapidly growing prison population in a state with the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation, a task force created by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is calling for dramatic decreases in sentences for nonviolent drug dealers and manufacturers, The Oklahoman reports. Without reform, Oklahoma is on pace to add 7,218 inmates over the next 10 years, requiring three new prisons and costing the state an additional $1.9 billion in capital expenditures and operating costs. The report said those costs can be averted and the prison population can be reduced 7 percent over the next decade through a combination of sentence reductions and other reforms, including increased funding for alternative mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.

Oklahoma has 61,385 people in its overcrowded corrections system. That includes 26,581 incarcerated in state facilities and private prisons, 1,643 awaiting transfer from county jails and 33,161 on some form of probation, parole, community sentencing or GPS monitoring, said corrections department spokesperson Terri Watkins. The prison population has grown 9 percent in the past five years and is 78 percent higher than the national average. Only Louisiana has a higher rate. Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate remains the highest in the nation. The report also calls for sweeping changes in the parole system, including allowing many inmates to become eligible for parole after serving a fourth of their sentences.

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