Sen. Constance N. Johnson announced on Friday that legislators, Department of Corrections (DOC) officials, members of community-based organizations and the public will meet in the Senate Chamber on Thursday, Sept. 3, for a discussion on the impact of the state’s high incarceration rates.
Johnson said there is an immediate need for the state to begin addressing this issue with a comprehensive plan, as Oklahoma currently incarcerates more women per capita than any other state, and is the third highest incarcerator of both men and women per capita. In 2009, the state spent $503 million on corrections costs, including an additional $24 million in emergency supplemental funding to cover increasing offender growth and operating costs.
“We can no longer set this issue aside while the cost of our high incarceration rates continues to take a toll on our state, our communities and our families,” said Johnson, D-Oklahoma City. “In order for us to correct this problem, we must examine the causes that lead to incarceration and methods to reduce recidivism and ensure successful re-entry. By doing so, Oklahoma is uniquely positioned to be on the cutting edge in developing a comprehensive plan to address the impact of incarceration on our communities.”
According to statistics from the Department of Corrections, Oklahoma’s incarceration rate ranks first nationally for females and fourth for males. Of the 25,120 prisoners currently in Oklahoma correctional facilities, 2,587 are women. Of those women, 77 percent are non-violent offenders. Johnson noted that since 1986, the Department of Corrections (DOC) budget has grown 250 percent, more than twice the rate of increase for education spending.
“We want to be tough on crimes that warrant a tough response, but we must be “smart on crime” when dealing with non-violent offenders who, with comprehensive rehabilitation and education, can be fairly punished and then return to society to be productive taxpaying citizens. Through a collaborative effort between legislative leaders, state agencies, mental health advocacy groups and community-based service organizations, I’m confident we can develop a smarter plan to reduce our overall prison population while keeping violent offenders off the streets,” Johnson said. “It’s time for us to finally acknowledge this issue as a pressing legislative and social concern and begin addressing it accordingly.”
“It’s time to develop a system that works both fairly and equitably, while reducing our economically unsustainable prison population.”
The group will meet from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m. in the Senate Chamber on Sept. 3. The meeting will be open to members of the public.