DALLAS – The Oklahoma Legislature’s failure to pass key sentencing reforms means the state is on pace to add 7,218 inmates over the next decade at a cost of $1.9 billion, according to Gov. Mary Fallin.
“We are facing a dire financial situation to the tune of an additional $2 billion to incarcerate even more Oklahomans,” Fallin said. “Creating an epidemic of broken families by incarcerating mothers and fathers who are convicted of nonviolent crimes and struggling with addiction is unacceptable, and is not keeping with Oklahoma values.”
Oklahoma’s prison population is expected to grow 25% over the next 10 years, Fallin said.
“Oklahoma’s overall incarceration rate is the second-highest in the country, and we lead the nation in female incarceration – incarcerating women at two-and-a-half times the national average,” Fallin said. “By 2018, we will have the highest incarceration rate in the country.”
The Republican governor’s criminal justice reform effort sought fiscal relief from the high number of nonviolent offenders in Oklahoma’s prisons. The task force was designed to develop “data-driven policy recommendations” to improve public safety, control corrections spending and improve recidivism rates for the legislative session that ended May 26.
While praising lawmakers for passing three of the 12 bills recommended by her Justice Reform Task Force, she said she was particularly disappointed that House Bill 2281 did not make it to her desk.
“It included important sentencing changes to low-level property crimes, and would have had a particularly important impact on our female prison population,” Fallin said in a prepared statement. “Without jeopardizing public safety, with these bills, we could have implemented smart, data-driven solutions to safely and prudently fix our criminal justice system.”
Fallin on Thursday signed Senate Bill 603, requiring all offenders to receive assessments to guide individualized case plans.
She also signed SB 604 and House Bill 2284. SB 604 provides training for law enforcement relating to domestic violence victim safety at the pretrial stage. HB 2284 provides training for public defenders, district attorneys and judges. Training is to include substance abuse, behavioral health, and impact and dynamics of domestic violence.
“These reforms are targeted at nonviolent offenders, many of whom suffer from addiction and mental health issues,” Fallin said. “We simply have to start focusing on treatment and reintegrating these offenders, which research has shown will result in lower crime rates and lower rates of recidivism.”
Critics say it took Texas six years to accomplish what Fallin proposes to do in two years. But the governor pointed to the fact that this year’s legislature faced a $900 million revenue shortfall after years of falling income.
Last November, Oklahoma voters approved a resolution calling on legislators to shrink prison rolls and downgrade numerous drug and property crimes to misdemeanors from felonies.
Louisiana, the state with the nation’s highest incarceration rate, last month developed a plan to reduce sentences and the prison population to reduce expenditures.
More than 30 other states have limited or reduced sentences, expanding alternative treatments for drug addiction or similar programs to reduce recidivism.
Efforts to reduce sentencing for drug crimes faces stiff opposition from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has demanded long prison sentences and increased punishment for violators of drug laws.