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Oklahoma judges say they are not to blame for the high number of incarcerated women.

BY NOLAN CLAY nclay@opubco.com Published: April 10, 2011
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“The way the system is put together, they almost have to break into the thing before we send them,” said recently retired District Judge Paul Vassar, of Chandler. “They work their way up the ladder.

“The fact of the matter — and it's frustrating — is that you don't get the message through. Drug addiction must be a terrible, terrible thing. … You reach the point there's no alternative.”

Vassar also said: “I am concerned that we do send too many people to the penitentiary. But I always thought that it would take a complete restructuring of the Department of Corrections to avoid that.”

Drug convictions

One longtime judge from northwest Oklahoma said he would send drug offenders to treatment at mental health facilities but not enough exist.

“I wouldn't hesitate five minutes to do that with the majority of them that I see. There's no room in the inn,” the judge said.

Comanche County District Judge Allen McCall said he has had success putting female offenders on ankle monitors instead of sending them to prison.

“I agree with the general premise that we send too many women to prison,” McCall said. “I've been trying for the last couple of years to look for some alternatives, like we started using the ankle monitor some more.

“I've been doing this 29 years and, in my experience, 90 percent of women offenders are really not threats to society. A lot of their offenses have to do with drug habits. A lot of them are single mothers. So I do think there are things that we need to look at besides sending them to prison.”

McCall also said: “We're running out of space in our county jails and the Department of Corrections. They're doing the best they can do but there's just too many.”

Oklahoma County District Judge Kenneth Watson said he, too, turns to alternatives to prison as much as he can, particularly with nonviolent offenders.

“Money's the problem so what do you do? You just have to look for them. They're out there, I guess, but you just have to look for them,” Watson said.

Watson also said does a lot of judicial reviews of prison sentences.

“If I sent them, I'll bring them back. And, if they have done reasonably well, I try to modify it to … supervision or something like that,” he said.