Oklahoma is putting people in prison at a rate greater than all but three other states, and that rate continues to grow, according to a report released Thursday by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Oklahoma, which has seen its prison population increase steadily over the past several decades, incarcerated 648 residents per 100,000 people in 2012, according to the study released by the bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Justice. That's up 2.5 percent, from 632 in 2011.
Oklahoma trails only Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in overall imprisonment rates; last year Oklahoma was ranked fifth. In incarceration of women, the state leads the country, with a rate of 127 per 100,000 residents. The state's rate of female incarceration has been the subject of numerous studies and public attention in recent years. Oklahoma also led the country in female incarceration in 2011.
Nationally, the number of people incarcerated in the United States dipped for the third straight year. In contrast, Oklahoma's prison population increased by 3.4 percent, from 25,321 in 2011 to 26,194 in 2012, according to end-of-year Oklahoma Department of Corrections reports.
The Oklahoma prison system is operating at more than 98 percent capacity. County jail systems are backed up with inmates awaiting transfer to the state system, but prison officials say they're having trouble handling the steady increases in the inmate population.
The department received only a 1 percent increase in its budget for fiscal year 2014.
More Oklahoma inmates have been moved to private prisons.
Former state Speaker of the House Kris Steele, who helped craft the 2012 Justice Reinvestment Initiative — aimed at helping cut the prison population — said the state needs to take more steps to address the problem.
“We're going in the opposite direction,” Steele said.
The initiative received less funding than requested, and many of the provisions have not been implemented, he said.
“There are smarter, more effective ways” to deal with many offenders than solely incarceration,” Steele said.
He cited other states, such as Texas, that have used similar justice initiatives to reduce their prison population during the past couple of years.
In Oklahoma, with prison facilities nearly maxed out, “the trends are unsustainable,” Steele said.