The cost of maintaining the world’s highest incarceration (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.

When it comes to mass incarceration, Oklahoma is No. 1 (in the world!) But what are the numbers behind this, by now, well known fact? And what effect does it have on Oklahoma’s state budget? Take a look:

  • The Department of Corrections daily count for September 4, 2018, was 27,210 incarcerated inmates with 993 awaiting transfer in county jails for a total of 28,203;
  • Oklahoma has the world’s highest incarceration rate at 1,079 per 100,000 population;
  • The national average rate of incarceration is 698 per 100,000;
  • By reaching the national average, like our neighboring state of Kansas, Oklahoma could cut its rate of incarnation by 35%;
  • By incarcerating at the national average Oklahoma could cut its prison population by 9,848;
  • Annual cost per inmate in Oklahoma in 2015 was $16,497;
  • By incarcerating at the national average Oklahoma taxpayers could save $162,462,456 annually.

These facts speak for themselves. But despite the efforts of Governor Fallin, many legislators, and participation by numerous stakeholders, the best the state has been able to do is slow the rate of increase in incarceration. This just proves what we already know: Change is hard. Reasonable people can disagree.

What has been accomplished to slow the flow of people to prison is good, but there can be no doubt it is not enough. It’s not asking too much that we at least strive to be average. We should look at our court system with an open mind and determine what it is that causes us to lock up more people than any other state or country. What is it about our system of justice that produces so many inmates? There are answers and other states have found them. They spend that $163 million on education, mental health, and health instead of prisons.

This is not a liberal agenda or a conservative agenda. So-called liberals tend to focus on things like racial disparity in incarceration, effects of incarceration on children and families, and lack of sentencing proportionality and fairness. So-called conservatives focus on cost to taxpayers, adverse effects on jobs and the economy, and public safety. But most people aren’t totally conservative or liberal. They would like to see solutions that address all these problems. In fact, Oklahomans have taken matters into their own hands at least twice lately and voted for state questions the effect of which is to reduce criminal sanctions and incarceration. With plenty of room for improvement, criminal justice reform will continue next session.

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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.

6 thoughts on “The cost of maintaining the world’s highest incarceration (Capitol Update)

  1. This is concerning, and should have Oklahomans questioning how our systems are failing. I would much rather see our tax dollars going to education and other support systems. Something needs to change. I just don’t believe that we are surrounded by that many criminals in Oklahoma. I feel like we are not seeing the entire picture. Are our laws too strict? How is our justice system failing? This is unacceptable.

  2. They could also save by the ones awaiting for their reviews, to be released. My uncle has time served in Tulsa Oklahoma, has been lost in the system 2x. Was going to be released on ankle monitor, parole approved home walk threw, his case manager disappears, they gave him a case worker,/jAiler NO EXPERIENCE 2WKS ON THS JOB. PUTS WRONG CODE IN. UNCLE WAS LOOKING AT A-wall from a work release program. 3years today. No one will do his review!!! What do we do? WE NEED HIM HOME!!!!! PLEASE HELP

  3. Same nightmare as “Belt” above. Sis too sick to complete drug court, arrested 8 years later. 1st offense. 3 lawyers. TEN YEARS. Age 60.
    Court promised Sentence Mod., Judicial Review, lawyer said “90 days tops”. She’s been rotting there for 18 months! And so many others. DOC is hopelessly broken. Us too. Now GPS eligible, home visit months ago. Still waiting. Mom is 80 and we’ll never be a family again.

  4. They need to change the sentencing law. Giving 40 years for a crime that in other states would give 5 or 10. How is keeping people in prison that long going to reform them.I think it would have a negative affect on human beings.

  5. In sequayah county they put men in jail for 6 months for child support and then take there licence, it cost 48$ a day 9,736$ for 6 months just for 1 person for child support. Not to,mention how much it cost to provide day care, health care and monthly payments (TANF) due to absent parent. How is putting a man in jail for 6 months helping pay child support or helping the child? The only thing this is doing is costing the government more money that isn’t nessasary.

  6. The corrections system in Oklahoma is seriously flawed. The powers that be are more focused on incarcerating people instead of rehabilitating them and that’s the major problem. Curbing mass incarceration will never see the light of day with this mindset. Think about it. Oklahoma locks up 1,079 per 100,000 when the national average is 698 per 100,000. There is the answer. Using other alternative means to punish people whose crimes are victimless has to include more community service programs being available. But I’m afraid people are so far gone on drugs and poverty that jail and prison reform will always remain a dilemma in Oklahoma. It all starts in the jailhouse. The county receives $64.92 a day to house individuals in the Oklahoma County Jail alone and the average stay inside the jail is over a year. This is why you see more than 1,600 people inside the jail and that averages out to just under $40,000,000 a year.

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