Last week we released the August edition of our Numbers You Need bulletin. In addition to tracking monthly and quarterly trends in employment, inflation, work support programs. state revenues, and foreclosures, each issue also looks at annual data for one key measure of Oklahoma’s prosperity and well-being. This month we looked at the state prison population. At the end of FY ’09, the state reported 25,197 offenders in prison. The good and surprising news in that number is that it represented an increase of only 59 inmates, or 0.2 percent from the end of FY ’08, and an increase of just 119, or 0.5 percent, from two years previously.
As can be seen from the graph, this leveling in the number of prisoners is a departure from the trend of recent years. From 2000-2007, the inmate count grew by an annual average rate of 1.5 percent. The slowdown was unexpected: when MGT of America released its major audit of the Department of Corrections in early 2008, the inmate population was projected to grow to 27,035 by the end of FY ’09, on its way to a total of just under 29,000 prisoners by the end of FY ’16. In both news accounts and follow-up conversations, DOC Director Justin Jones attributes the slowdown to two factors: a reduction in the number of offenders being sent to prison for probation violations due to creative policies being implemented by DAs in Oklahoma County and elsewhere; and new policies that allow prisoners not to lose earned credit towards release for certain misconduct.
In 2007, the most recent year for which national data was available, Oklahoma imprisoned 665 people per 100,000 population, compared to the national average of 506. Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate that year was more than twice the national average and highest in the nation. Our heavy reliance on incarceration has social, economic, and fiscal consequences that will remain an ongoing challenge for policymakers and communities to address in the years ahead. However, that progress is already being made in keeping in leveling off the inmate population deserves to be noted and celebrated.
We hope you’ll check out the full edition of August’s Numbers You Need.