Oklahomans don’t want to pay what it costs to keep incarcerating so many (Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

In preparation for the upcoming session, Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh appeared before the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that are responsible for crafting next year’s DOC budget. He cited Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics showing Oklahoma is again number 2 in overall incarceration of our citizens and number 1 in incarcerating women. We are holding in prison 673 per 100,000 Oklahoma residents. The national average is 397 per 100,000. If Oklahoma incarcerated our people at the national average, there would be 11,020 fewer inmates in our prisons at a cost of $48 per day. Doing the math, if we were just average in incarceration, neither high nor low, the savings to the state budget would be $193 million!

As a life-long Oklahoman, I doubt that either a disproportionately high rate of crime or an excessively punitive attitude toward offenders by Oklahomans would justify an incarceration rate over 40 percent higher than the average state. And it is apparent, based on the actions of our state government over the past decades, that Oklahomans are unwilling to pay the tab for this level of incarceration. As a result, Director Allbaugh has consistently warned that our corrections system is a time bomb just waiting to explode. He says keeping up with the current trend will require a $1.53 billion investment next year.

The problem is not with DOC. The problem is that our laws, and the way they are implemented, incarcerate too many Oklahomans in DOC. More than most states, Oklahoma puts individuals on a path that ends in lengthy, counterproductive prison sentences.

Oklahomans recognized this when they passed SQ 780 at the polls reducing simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. There are currently 855 inmates in DOC who are still serving sentences imposed before SQ 780 was passed. Sen. Roger Thompson has filed a bill to give those inmates who are serving a sentence no longer possible under current law an opportunity to go back to court and ask the judge to re-sentence them. DOC has estimated that just this bill could save $9.8 million. If legislators want to bring Oklahoma more in line with national norms and follow the will of the people, this is a common sense beginning.

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Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

9 thoughts on “Oklahomans don’t want to pay what it costs to keep incarcerating so many (Capitol Update)

  1. We need to do away with the 85% and get back to truth in sentencing. Laws ahould be made as guidelines and the spirit of it sould be considered when sentencing. Each case/defendant should be judged individually. In some cases the character/life of defendant and victim needs to be considered. A defendant who has never had legal problems, is a vet, has two degrees, worked his whole life and just got in a situation that required him to make a split second decision and a “victom” who was a known thug along with generations of his family, who had felony records, was known for attacking people including women, and from behind, Was on felony probation which he had violated and had warrant out. The defendant had only himself to testify on his behalf about what happened The other “victim” was a felon and known drug dealer
    He survived. Where is the JUSTICE when the defendant has to serve consecutive sentences of Life w/p
    Which is the same given to a rapist/murderer.

  2. They need to change the 85% or just do away with it completely, so many young offenders doing lengthy sentences that would not reoffend and deserve a second chance.

  3. I do think our justice system needs an overhaul that is retroactive to all inmates. I have a former client that I visit regularly in Mabel Bassett. She received a life sentence for one count of child abuse, breaking her infant’s leg. She is in under the 85% law, and has served 18 years. She is not a threat to society. She is not a threat to other people’s children. She has rehabilitated remarkably. She has taken college classes and has close to a 4. average. She got her electrical journeyman license while in prison. She could be paroled right now. She has a place to stay when she gets out. She has the promise of an electrician job. She is serving a longer sentence than many for worse crimes. There are many women in prison like her. We need prison reform, and not just for the non-violent offenders. Many so-called violent offenders are not really violent. We also need to look at those who are already incarcerated and see how many can be freed. And before anyone starts in on how easy inmates have it and how they get a free education, I paid for all of her education, not the taxpayers.

  4. Agreeing with the comments above and the stats this article states, in addition another 9-million would be saved if law-makers would adopt and implement the Oklahoma Second-Chance Initiative (proven to work in California and other states) addressing the “lifer” and other long-term incarcerated (one-felony) first-time offense with a clean (no write-ups) for 25-years or more… and letting them (most of whom are 55 and older) have a 2nd chance at a life on the outside. Their long-term excellent behavior proves that THEY are NOT a risk or a danger to anyone except to tax-payer’s pocket-books when kept incarcerated! Email me for a fresh COPY of the Oklahoma Second-Chance Initiative if you are serious about saving $$$ and reducing Oklahoma’s first-time inmate population.

  5. I am not a Politician or a lawyer, I am a Inmate’s wife. I have seen and heard about inmates who have been in for more than 40 years and it is heartbreaking to see that. Some of them have health problems that they wouldn’t have if they would of been home, not saying it wouldn’t of happened but these inmates should have been home a long time ago if Oklahoma would do their job and let them out. I know a lot of men who were in for quit awhile and they are doing good a productive citizens out here. The pardon and Parole aren’t doing our inmate justice unless you are a non-violent offender and that is not fair to the ones who have been incarcerated for a long period of time. When you go up for Parole they want to set you off for the next 5 years because of the last parole member who was picked in september 2017. I know their are model inmates who are violent offenders that would be Productive citizens out here if they were given a chance. I believe People can change and my husband is a perfect example of that and like i said i know their are more like him in their who are the same way. I am all for this Second chance Initiative and I would love to help to kick this off the ground and make it Prosper for these Inmates. I would like a Copy of the Oklahoma Second-Chance Initiative. Would love to hear more of this situation and reducing Oklahoma prison Population for the Violent Offenders.

  6. I would like a copy of the Oklahoma second-chance initiative. I have a loved one that has been in for a long time thank you.

  7. I would like a copy of the Oklahoma second-chance initiative. I have a loved one that has been in for a long time thank you.

  8. Please send me a copy of the Oklahoma Second Chance Initiative. I have a loved one in our prison system. Thank you.

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