So we have a prison population that stands at about 26,000 — a 30 percent increase over the past 15 years. This growth has been helped by more laws requiring inmates to serve 85 percent of their time before they can be considered for parole. But the number of nonviolent drug offenders sent to prison grows each year, too.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute last week called for steps that would benefit the prison system and prisoners. One is to actively pursue previous reforms such as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which the Legislature approved last year but needs more funding and interagency buy-in and cooperation to have any chance at making a difference.
OK Policy suggested changes that would allow those convicted of lesser crimes to keep their driver's licenses and join professions that aren't related to their crimes. These are sensible ideas aimed at helping those who have messed up to start over again. OK Policy's call for lawmakers to look anew at sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders also merits consideration. Studies have shown that using increased monitoring after a short stay behind bars is more effective for many of those offenders than a long stretch locked up.
But lawmakers' unease with corrections continues. An example noted by OK Policy was a bill this session that sought to reduce to five years (from 10 years) the maximum sentence for some marijuana possession cases. A House committee approved it unanimously. Then, “It was not allowed a hearing on the House floor.”
At some point, this resistance has to change.