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Governor's Task Force: 27 Recommendations for Reducing Prison Overcrowding

03-Feb-2017

Oklahoma's jails and prisons are overpopulated and understaffed. Penal institutions across the state are at crisis levels, justice advocates are calling for reform, and legislators are attempting to find solutions.

(Well, some of them are, anyway. Remember, we just wrote about two proposed bills that would undo "smart on crime" legislation passed last year and supported by the citizens' vote for SQ 780 and 781.)

The Governor of Oklahoma--the same one who in 2014 said through a spokesman that she was "not concerned about the situation in the prisons"--created a task force to look at the state's problem with prison overcrowding and develop potential solutions.

If she wasn't concerned in 2014, Governor Fallin ought to be concerned by now. Recent studies have shown that Oklahoma prisons are among the deadliest in the nation, and the state has the second highest incarceration rate in the nation (which has the highest incarceration rate in the world). Oklahoma's prison population--currently at 109 percent of prison capacity--has grown 9 percent in the last five years and is 78 percent higher than the national average. Without reform, the population is expected to add more than 7,000 more inmates in the next 10 years, requiring more prisons and more money to house them--money Oklahoma does not have in light of a nearly $900 million shortfall.

This sounds like federal intervention just waiting to happen. It would not be the first time the feds have stepped in to tell an Oklahoma correctional facility to get its act together. The United States Department of Justice stepped in to mandate reform and the correction of civil rights violations at the Oklahoma County Jail, and that facility is still trying to pull it together to meet the requirements.

But Governor Fallin is very concerned about appearance, even if she does not seem to be truly concerned about actual solutions. (You may remember that she recently said Oklahoma schools needed to "step up" because 4-day school weeks "look bad" to potential businesses. Never mind the fact that the short week is due to her failure to adequately fund education in the first place.) So a task force was created and now that group has come up with some proposed solutions.

In the 38 page report, the task force made 27 recommendations for alleviating the "situation in the prisons." Among the recommendations:

  • Reducing the time an inmate must serve before he or she becomes eligible for parole
  • Reducing the penalty for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute to 0 to 5 years (currently 2 to life)
  • Reducing the penalty for possession of heroine or crack cocain with intent to distribute to 0 to 8 years (currently 7 to life)
  • Reducing the penalty for meth manufacture to 0 to 8 years (currently 7 to life)
  • Reducing drug trafficking penalties and setting up a tiered penalty system based on drug quantity
  • Allowing judges to modify sentences of inmates serving life without parole for nonviolent crimes after the inmate has served at least 10 years
  • Reduce the 85 Percent Rule to 70 percent for inmates convicted of aggravated drug trafficking, and allow electronic monitoring after release
  • Revise rules for sentencing non-violent habitual offenders
  • Lower penalties for non-violent property crimes
  • Create special parole options for geriatric inmates

While this task force certainly gives the appearance of wanting to make real criminal justice reform, most of the recommendations will require legislative action to approve--and that might be a tough sell. 



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