Changes sought to curb Oklahoma jail crowding

BY JULIE BISBEE Modified: January 16, 2009 at 4:33 am •  Published: January 16, 2009
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Lawmakers need political encouragement to make meaningful criminal justice reforms to address Oklahoma’s growing prison population, according to a report released by the Oklahoma Academy.

The report was a product of a three-day town hall meeting in which various participants worked to come up with goals and recommendations to address crowding in the state’s prison population.

"This is a long-term problem that’s not sexy,” said former Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus. "A sexy problem is one that everybody wants to fix and do work on. Lawmakers are scared to death to say anything other than ‘We’re tough on crime.’ That’s how it is, they have to get re-elected and it’s not popular to say anything else.”

The academy’s report, however, points out that being tough on crime is not necessarily the best thing for Oklahoma.

The report calls for sentencing reform and a study of decriminalizing possession of certain drugs. The report also said the academy should partner with the District Attorneys Council to create a group to analyze laws that govern how Oklahomans are sentenced. The group also recommended narrowing the range of standardized sentencing or repealing a law that requires offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentence.

The state Corrections Department’s largest growing population is people incarcerated on 85 percent sentences, said the department’s Neville Massie, who spoke Tuesday when the academy released its findings.


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AT A GLANCE
ACADEMY’S SUGGESTIONS

Members of the Oklahoma Academy met for three days to discuss the state’s criminal justice system. Some of their recommendations include:

→Make changes to current sentencing laws, reconsidering the 85 percent rule that requires offenders with certain offenses to serve 85 percent of their sentences.

→Fully fund the Department of

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ "Smart on Crime” plan that would increase

mental health and drug treatment programs at the community level.

→Make alternatives available to first-time, nonviolent offenders and nonviolent offenders with one prior felony conviction.

→Reduce the number of women in prison in the next decade. Oklahoma puts 129 women in prison per 100,000 population. The national rate is 69 per 100,000.

→Review the state’s financing for corrections should include spending more on prisons.

Source:

Oklahoma Academy

town hall report

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