Oklahoma Soon to Lead the Nation in Incarceration Rate

As Oklahoma teachers descend upon the state Capitol this week to protest being number one in budget cuts in the nation, Oklahoma has its eye on another disgraceful number one spot: incarceration.

For years, we have been writing about Oklahoma being the top incarcerator of women in the United States, but the state was only near the top for overall incarceration--third in the nation. However, with the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics reports coming out, the state has crept to number two, and figures look as if second place is deceptively low.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Corrections, as of 2016, Oklahoma has maintained its number one spot in women's incarceration (a spot it has held for a staggering and shameful 25 years), and it has inched up to number two in overall incarceration, second only to Louisiana.

The 2016 figures show Oklahoma locked up 673 inmates per 100,000 population, compared to Louisiana's 760 per 100,000. This is nearly double the national average.

However, the Department of Corrections reports that the BJS numbers report a "decline" in the number of inmates over the past two years, when the statistics actually failed to account for inmates sentenced for a crime but awaiting transfer to an ODOC facility at year-end. Experts believe that the current incarceration rate would reveal that Oklahoma actually took the number one spot overall.

Although some legislation has been put into place to help reduce the state's prison population, the fact is that many of those laws have not yet had a chance to reap benefits in this way. Furthermore, much legislation remains sitting unheard and unsigned at the state Capitol. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections explains what this lack of action means:

The legislature has not approved any of the Governor's Task Force recent recommendations that would have significantly impacted prison population growth.

Additionally, even if all of reforms of the last session had passed as written, they would not have addressed the overcrowding within ODOC facilities.

As of Friday morning, state prisons were at 112 percent of capacity.

The reforms that have been made are necessary. Oklahomans sentenced to prison for nonviolent crimes have 80-100 percent longer incarceration compared to those sentenced for nonviolent crimes in other states. For drug crimes, Oklahomans serve sentences that are about twice the national average.

One major reform that could impact the state's incarceration rate by lowering it is the approval of SQ 780 in 2016. When voters approved this measure, they approved the reclassification of certain felonies as misdemeanors. This has resulted in a decrease in the number of felonies filed in the last year.

Still, the Department of Corrections expects the prison population to grow by 25 percent by the year 2026. Because of this, they are asking for $1.53 billion in funding from the state legislature--an increase of more than $1 billion over the current budget of $485 million. The DOC says these funds would be used as follows: "In addition to more money for medical treatment, programs and IT needs, ODOC's request includes more than $813 million for two new medium-security prisons, $107 million in repairs to crumbling facilities, and $10 million in across-the-board raises."

Oklahoma: last in funding for education, first in number of incarcerations. Coincidence or correlation?

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