AT some point, it's reasonable to assume, the situation inside one of Oklahoma's packed prisons will turn very ugly, and someone other than another inmate will get hurt or killed. Only then will we hear declarations that something ought to be done about a problem that's been festering for years.
Until that happens, though, it will most assuredly be business as usual for the Legislature. That business includes dismissing any suggestion of sentencing reform designed to ease prison crowding, and instead pursuing legislation that locks more offenders away for longer amounts of time.
This includes working to weaken existing reform efforts. An example is a move to expand the state's list of violent crimes in order to limit the number of paroles that can be granted exclusively by the state Pardon and Parole Board. Voters in November endorsed the idea of removing the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders, something studies have shown would save money and ease crowding.
Also included is a lukewarm response to a 2012 bill designed to cut corrections costs and reinvest some of the savings in the system. Without buy-in from a number of agencies and officials involved in the process, the proposed changes won't be made and the savings won't be realized.
The bill was promoted by former House Speaker Kris Steele, a Republican who demonstrated that exploring new ways to deal with criminal justice didn't require forfeiting your conservative credentials. Looking for ways to reduce the number of Oklahoma females who wind up in prison — a practice that takes an awful toll on families, particularly children — or the length of those stays, as Steele did, should be the goal of any conservative. So too should studying ways to better use taxpayer dollars.
Oklahoma has so many men and women behind bars that roughly 1,700 state inmates are being held in county jails, waiting to be transferred to state prisons. Many counties don't mind this practice and indeed have come to depend on the state money they get as part of the deal. But one county has sued the Department of Corrections, saying the per diem rate is too low.
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