Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, discussing criminal justice reform at an event on incarcerated women, said “The more we talk about this as a nation, the more we can help change the laws and change legislation,” The Oklahoman reports. Fallin’s spoke at “Defining Justice,” moderated by The Atlantic’s Alison Stewart. Oklahoma has 61,000 people in its prison system, including more than 26,000 held in state facilities and private prisons, about 1,600 awaiting transfer from county jails and another 33,000 on some form of probation, parole, community sentencing or GPS monitoring. The state’s prison population, at 109 percent of capacity, is 78 percent higher than the national average, and is expected to grow by 25 percent in the next decade without major reforms.
That could cost the state an additional $2 billion. Meanwhile, state mental health officials say it costs $2,000 a year, on average, per person for outpatient mental health and substance abuse services, compared to more intensive programs, such as drug court, which costs about $5,000 a year per person. By comparison, it costs about $19,000 a year to hold someone in prison. Fallin lauded Oklahomans for moving the criminal justice discussion beyond mere tough-on-crime talk and into ideas on how to more wisely use taxpayer dollars while keeping violent offenders off the street. Last November, voters passed two ballot initiatives designed to reduce prison overcrowding. One made certain low-level crimes misdemeanors rather than felonies, including simple drug possession and theft of items valued at less than $1,000. The other aims to use money saved by incarcerating fewer people to help fund drug treatment and mental health programs. Those reforms may clash with federal policy. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled a return to increased drug prosecutions and prolonged sentences for low-level offenders. “I need to have a discussion with him,” Fallin said.