Oklahoma! Where… A Lot of People Are in Prison
If you think California is the only state that fills its prison rec rooms with bunk beds, you haven’t visited Oklahoma:
“I remember when we put in those bunks and were quoted as saying it would be temporary,” Justin Jones, Oklahoma Department of Corrections director, said. “Here we are in 2010, and they are still there, except now they are stacked two high. In the Department of Corrections, temporary is at least 15 years.”
Granted, at “just” 99% of capacity, Oklahoma’s prisons aren’t nearly as overcrowded as California’s. But 99% is far from ideal — prison administrators say that you never want to be that close to full, so you have flexibility to move people around safely and admit newly sentenced offenders sent to you by the courts. (I once heard the job of running a prison compared to running a hotel where you can’t ever hang up a “no vacancy” sign.)
And unlike California, which actually has average per capita incarceration rates for the U.S., Oklahoma leads the nation in locking up women, and also has one of the highest rates of locking up men. Now, with the prison system sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the state budget each year, lawmakers and citizens in the Sooner State are pondering alternatives:
A recent Tulsa World survey also showed strong public support for finding alternatives to incarceration for many nonviolent female offenders and for doing more to help the children they leave behind.
Sen. Brian Bingman, the new Senate president pro tem, said he supports “anything that we can do to keep nonviolent criminals out of prisons.”
Bingman, R-Sapulpa, also said he wants to learn more about the governor’s role in the parole process before deciding whether that requirement should continue.
Gov.-elect Mary Fallin said she would consider legislation removing the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders, adding that for heinous crimes, the governor would have to remain involved.
Fallin also has said that expanding drug and mental health courts would help relieve prison congestion.