Representatives from 27 states met in Oklahoma City this week to discuss ways to deal with a rapidly expanding inmate population while keeping the public safe. More than 150 national experts on criminal sentencing wrapped up the two-day conference Tuesday at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. Oklahoma's prisons are at 98 percent capacity, and other states like California are struggling to find places to put thousands of inmates. Commissions face an ongoing battle with legislators who make more actions illegal and increase sentence lengths, said Jack O'Connell, president of the National Association of Sentencing Commissions. "Legislators love to make things felonies,” he said.
What they talked about•Dealing with sex offenders Residency restrictions for sex offenders don't work, a panel of law experts said. "Residency restrictions are in vogue,” said Daniel Filler, a law professor at Drexel University. "There is no evidence they work at all.” Twenty-seven states, including Oklahoma, have passed laws designed to keep anyone labeled a sex offender from living near schools, parks, churches and other areas. • A prison without walls It's possible, according to Doug Bernam, a law professor at Ohio State University. "The present technology has gotten outdated,” he said. "Prisons have become warehouses instead of a place where we can do anything progressive.” He said technologies like global positioning are bound to become more common in the future as a way to keep track of criminals. Oklahoma uses global satellite positioning to monitor about 400 people who would otherwise be in prison. • Justice in face of disaster When hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed the Gulf Coast, law enforcement was virtually wiped out by the storms, then took another blow from the public outrage that followed in its aftermath, said Carle Jackson, director of Louisiana's Commission on Law Enforcement. When the storms hit, the wheels of justice came to a halt. Police stations, courthouses and prisons flooded, almost all records were destroyed and about 10,000 inmates had to be evacuated to other prisons. Jackson said Louisiana is still struggling to sort out the chaos caused by the hurricanes.