Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘oklahoma

Oklahoma! Where… A Lot of People Are in Prison

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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.

h/t: Sentencing Law & Policy

Written by sara

December 7, 2010 at 11:00 am

Tenth Circuit Partially Reinstates Lawsuit over Oklahoma Inmate’s Access to Halal Meat

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Madyun Abdulhaseeb, an Oklahoma inmate and practicing Muslim, filed a lawsuit against the state department of corrections including a litany of claims, mostly revolving around allegations that the prison system has violated his religious freedoms in a variety of ways, from failing to provide a full-time Muslim spiritual leader to passing out Christian pamphlets at Christmas time. In total, Absulhaseeb brought 17 claims, under both Section 1983 (the generic statute that allows for lawsuits over constitutional violations) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), which specifically covers religious freedom protections in the land use and prison contexts.

The Tenth Circuit recently upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the state on most of the counts, but remanded to the district court for further proceedings on Abdulhaseeb’s two RLUIPA claims:

Mr. Abdulhaseeb established that he was entitled to proceed with his RLUIPA claims, first, that his religious exercise was substantially burdened when officials at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) denied his request for a halal diet and, second, when officials at the Great Plains Correctional Facility (GPCF) denied his request for halal meat for an Islamic feast. (PDF p. 3)

It appears from the facts in the opinion that, when Abdulhaseeb requested halal meals, he was repeatedly told that Oklahoma prisoners could request a non-pork or vegetarian diet, but he was denied a diet including halal meat. In the prison where he’s currently incarcerated, the options are non-pork, vegetarian, and kosher, but again, no halal — and in any event, Oklahoma policy restricts kosher diets to Jewish inmates (PDF pp. 8, 30).

Recession Roundup: States Cutting Prison Programs around the Country

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As readers know, in its most recent round of budget cuts, California axed two-thirds of its prison rehabilitation programs, a move some politicians and commentators have criticized. Today in the Sacramento Bee is another op-ed lamenting the cuts, this one from Orson Aguilar, a former offender who went on to earn B.A. and M.P.A. degrees and to work as a non-profit executive (he’s now the head of the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley). Aguilar writes: “Rehabilitation and alternative programs can save lives. I know. One of them saved mine.”

But California is not the only state strapped for cash. Here’s a Tulsa World report on cuts to Oklahoma prison programming, and here’s the Jackson Clarion-Ledger on Mississippi’s threat to stop funding its share of a joint county-state inmate work program:

“We built these facilities on the word of the state of Mississippi,” said Holmes County Sheriff Willie March, president of the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association. Holmes County recently broke ground on a $400,000 facility.

Ron Welch, the prisoners’ rights attorney who represents Mississippi inmates, said he is “sick to his stomach” that the state is considering ending the program.

“I have to tell you, I never thought we’d come to this day,” he said.

Welch pushed counties to participate, arguing it’s one of the best programs MDOC runs. Counties get free labor, the state gets a deal on housing costs and inmates learn valuable work skills.

Written by sara

February 23, 2010 at 2:54 pm

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