TOM McKeon has an idea. What if the state of Oklahoma invested in some of the men and women it locks up, in order to save the corrections system money in the long run and give those inmates a shot at a life after prison? The Legislature ought to lend McKeon an ear.
McKeon is president of Tulsa Community College, which since 2007 has been sending teachers to Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy to teach courses in such fields as hotel/restaurant management, landscape design and business and enterprise development. To date, 338 men and women (the females are housed at Turley Correctional Center north of Tulsa) have participated in the Second Chance program; 286 certificates of achievement or associate degrees have been awarded. Of the 128 who have been released from prison, only 6 percent of the male participants have wound up back behind bars. None of the female participants has returned.
“To me it makes more sense to provide these young men and women some tools ... so they don't go back,” McKeon said during a meeting this week with The Oklahoman's editorial board. “To me, that's economic development.”
And it makes fiscal sense. Under this program, inmates can get 30 days shaved off their sentences after completing six credit hours. That's a savings to the Department of Corrections of about $2,000 per month. Those who obtain an associate degree get their sentence reduced by 100 days. For an agency that's already strapped, every little bit of savings helps.
But this is also the morally correct thing to do. Oklahoma has earned its reputation as a tough-on-crime state, with an incarceration rate that's among the highest in the nation. In a recent newspaper op-ed, Sean Wallace, head of the group that represents outnumbered and underpaid correctional officers, noted that Oklahoma has seen a 444 percent growth in the prison population in the past 30 years. The inmate count in the last fiscal year grew by about 700 inmates, “nearly a full prison's worth.”