IN Oklahoma, the state of California is often considered an example of how not to do things, yet Oklahoma may be going down the same path as California when it comes to prison issues.
In June, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for Northern California ordered that state to release about 9,600 inmates (roughly 8 percent of all prisoners) in the short term as part of a larger effort to reduce the prison population by about 30,000. Gov. Jerry Brown asked the state's Supreme Court to delay the order, but the court declined. Nearly three-quarters of the inmates who will be released are considered moderate or high recidivism risks.
Residents of Roseville, Calif., recently experienced the havoc that can ensue when the wrong people are freed from prison. In late October, Samuel Nathan Duran, 32, was arrested after an hours-long standoff. Before he was apprehended, Duran shot a federal immigration officer and two local police officers (with a third officer wounded by shrapnel), and barricaded himself in a house, forcing evacuation of the neighborhood. Duran, a parolee, was wanted in connection with another crime. His release was not tied to the court order.
Oklahoma lawmakers undoubtedly hope this state won't face similar court-ordered release of dangerous prisoners. That may be wishful thinking. Oklahoma's state prison system is running at more than 98 percent capacity. The number of inmates housed at state-run and private prisons in Oklahoma exceeds 26,700 and is expected to increase. The number of guards corralling those inmates is dangerously low.
Many other state inmates are held in county jails, waiting for prison beds to open up. This causes overcrowding at county facilities. Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz has even gone to court seeking to force the Department of Corrections to take state prisoners out of his jail.
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