What’s driving Oklahoma’s prison population growth?

Photo by Matteo Parrini / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Photo by Matteo Parrini / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, up from fourth highest in 2012, with approximately 1,310 out of every 100,000 of our citizens incarcerated in 2014. The state appropriated $485 million to the Department of Corrections in FY 2016, but even that amount was not enough to cope with increasingly overcrowded and understaffed prisons. Meanwhile, the state’s prison population continues to grow.

With criminal justice reform again on the agenda in 2016, it is important to understand what is behind the growth in the prison population. A review of the report that provided the foundation for Oklahoma’s 2012 effort at criminal justice reform, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, provides some important insights into what is needed to cut incarceration rates – and challenges some common misconceptions.

Drug possession is punished inconsistently

Although harsh prison sentences for minor drug crimes are often blamed for the growth in the prison population, punishments for these crimes vary widely in practice. DAs and judges can choose to sentence individuals convicted of drug possession felonies to DA supervision, probation, community sentencing, drug court, or prison, and they often use an individual’s prior criminal history to make their decision.

The way this process plays out is far from standardized. In Tulsa County, for example, 24 percent of individuals convicted of felony drug possession were sentenced to prison, 39 percent to DA supervision, 22 percent to probation, 10 percent to drug court, and 6 percent to community sentencing, according to data from 2010 cited in the JRI report.

Oklahoma does have among the harshest punishments in the nation for drug possession, and some first-offense drug possession defendants are sent to prison. Another analysis cited in the JRI report showed that 10 percent of the people sentenced to prison for drug possession between 2005 and 2010 had no prior felony convictions or misdemeanor drug convictions.

However, overall prison receptions for nonviolent offenses had been trending slightly downward from 2005 until 2014, when the Department of Corrections started moving inmates from county jails to state prisons as a cost-cutting measure. 

Oklahoma Prison Receptions by Controlling Offense

Recidivism is very low in Oklahoma compared to other states

Gov. Fallin has set the goal of reducing the recidivism rate from 22.0 percent in 2014 to 20.1 percent in 2017, and recidivism is sometimes cited as another contributor to high incarceration rates. However, Oklahoma has among the lowest rates of individuals returning to prison after being released. This rate has already fallen from 26.4 percent in 2004-2007, when Oklahoma had the third-lowest recidivism rate of the 41 states for which data was available.

This is likely due in part to Oklahoma’s punitive sentencing structure, which puts many offenders in prison for offenses that would get them only probation or something less severe in another state. We send many people to prison who aren’t dangerous to begin with, so they are less likely to get in trouble again after they leave prison. While there is room for improvement, even a major reduction in recidivism would likely have little effect on overall incarceration levels. In fact, it’s possible that criminal justice reforms could increase Oklahoma’s recidivism rate, but that won’t be a bad thing if it’s caused by people who aren’t dangerous never going to prison in the first place.

Growth is driven by longer prison terms and low parole rates

Much of the growth in the state prison population is driven by the stacking of so-called “85 percent” offenders. Under state law, those convicted of very serious offenses like murder, armed robbery, or crimes against children must serve 85 percent of their sentences before they are eligible for release. Assuming one percent growth in prison admissions for these crimes, the prison population will grow steadily as these offenders are assured long sentences by law.

Source: Council of State Governments

Meanwhile, the already-long sentences for serious crimes are getting longer. Between 1990 and 2009, the average time served by Oklahoma prisoners increased by 83 percent, the fourth biggest jump in the country. Drilling down further, average time served for violent crimes increased by 34 percent, property crimes by 93 percent, and drug crimes (including manufacturing, trafficking, and other serious offenses) by 122 percent. These trends don’t provide much detail about life sentences and other small but important contributors to longer terms, but they show broadly that the average person in prison stays there much longer now than he or she did two decades ago.

Once offenders are in Oklahoma prisons, the system is set up to keep them there. The JRI report points out that perversely, many offenders prefer to stay in prison than to be released on parole, where they can’t shorten their sentences with good behavior credits but are limited by onerous behavioral restrictions. This has caused more offenders to be released unsupervised and, in turn, to be more likely to reoffend.

As a result, the state stands apart from the rest of the states in its use of prison to hold offenders. The total correctional population of a state includes people incarcerated and on community supervision (probation or parole). Oklahoma ranks last in the share of its correctional population on community supervision, and is one of only three states where the share of incarcerated people is greater. 

Last September, Gov. Fallin made an important policy change to allow “85 percent” offenders to earn early release credits before they serve 85 percent of their sentence. She estimated that this will shorten sentence length and save the state about $2.3 million over 18 months, but such a measure will do little to decrease the overall prison population.

Significant reductions in incarceration will require a smarter approach to both non-violent and more serious crimes

Since the growth in the prison population is driven mostly by long sentences for serious offenders, meaningfully reducing incarceration will require either reducing prison time across the board or steering a large majority of those convicted of minor drug and property crimes away from ever entering prison. The latter is the focus of both the Governor’s recommendations and the recently-announced initiative petition proposed by the Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR) coalition (which includes OK Policy). The Governor’s proposal would allow prosecutors to charge first drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies and greatly reduce mandatory sentences; OCJR’s proposal would reduce all drug possession offenses to misdemeanors. Both would increase the threshold for felony property crimes from $500 to $1,000.

These are smart reforms that could meaningfully decrease the number of offenders entering the state corrections system. But this should be only the start of Oklahoma’s renewed commitment to focusing on what works in criminal justice rather than what is most punitive. Even for violent offenders, there’s good reason to believe that graduated reentry, rather than spending all of a lengthy sentence inside prison, allows a much better chance of rehabilitation while protecting public safety and saving the state money. That means broadening the use of parole to keep ex-prisoners under supervision and make sure they develop the skills and community networks that will prevent them from committing another crime.

This year presents an opportunity for serious progress on sentencing reform, but regardless of what passes, there will be much left to do. We should hope that whatever is accomplished is seen as merely the first step to a more effective and efficient corrections system.


Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

25 thoughts on “What’s driving Oklahoma’s prison population growth?

  1. I don’t know how the other counties are in Oklahoma, but in Kay County you would have to commit an act of war to go to jail. In the SUNDAY Ponca City News you will see all the court cases for that week. They either end with a SUSPENDED SENTENCE, DEFERRED SENTENCE or serve WEEKENDS in Jail. Serve WEEKENDS ? This is NOT a resort. Build prisons using Chain Link Fence and used mobile homes for housing. Why do they need work out rooms and other luxury items ? If nothing else work out a deal with MEXICO. They will house them down there for $25 a day.

  2. Thank you for commenting on violent offenders. There are many serving life sentences and only committed one violent crime .. the one that put them there. Take Wayne Thompson #135088 for example. He was only 15 years old when he took the life of his abuser. He is now on his 34th year in prison and has never committed another violent crime. He’s not been in any trouble for 18 years, has gotten a college degree and has voluntarily taken nearly every class DOC offers. Statistics prove that with his age, education and length of time served he is among the least likely to ever return to prison and will never commit a violent crime again. This is what no one wants to hear though. It’s easier to believe he is a danger to society and stats and his record prove it. If Oklahoma wants to be smart on crime, why not release on recitivism rates? Doesn’t it make more sense to release those who aren’t likely to come back? He keeps asking what more can he do to get a second chance. He has now served more than twice as long as the average time for the same crime in other states. I am always surprised that he and other inmates still choose to do the right thing even though they know they will likely never get out. Life sentences need to be done away with and replaced with a number.

  3. I really like that thus article points out that Governor’s and Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform deal with reducing numbers going in but solution has to include parole of offenders with violent convictions!

  4. Very informative piece, Ryan. Kudos to OK Policy for taking up the issue of sentencing reform. It is critically needed, not only for offenders who may be treated unfairly, but for their families, particularly their children. Although there is still much more research to be done on the effects of having a parent in prison, several studies point to increased behavioral problems and decreased well-being among children with incarcerated parents, particularly mothers, compared to other children (e.g., Shlafer & Poehlmann, 2010). Moreover, these children tend to come from economically disadvantaged homes and are likely to be of a minority race/ethnicity (http://www.ncsl.org/documents/cyf/childrenofincarceratedparents.pdf), two factors that correlate with poor academic performance and decreased life opportunities. I hope all efforts related to sentencing reform will consider the effects on children. After all, it’s not just the state’s coffers or the life opportunities of an offender that stand to benefit from more rationale approaches to justice. If the crime is such that there is a better alternative than locking them up, it is in the best interest of society to take it.

  5. We live in a state where our last thought is the children. These children do not know how to cope with the lose of their parents. Our family has three girls that was my brothers children. My brother was the single parent with sole custody of five children. His two boys was given back to their mother and beaten so badly they was placed in a foster home after returning to her. Don Tolliver was their sole provider. He did not have the money to hire a lawyer. He was given a public defender that chose to call no one in his defence. His daughters now have depression and anxiety. We need reform. Don was a great dad but they chose to get that conviction. The public defender was bullied. He did not object to nothing. The DA in Delaware County Oklahoma has destroyed many families because he has the state to back him. We are one of them. It should be about his children and I pray everyday we can find relief. Don Tolliver was given 35 years. His victim a bandaid. We need reform. When we visit Don in prison there are several of these cases. We need reform now. Not all prisoners are bad people. They are poor people.

  6. My husband Stanley is a Vietnam era vet, a graduate of SOSU and and independent building contractor. He never had any trouble with the law until he was 53 years old. He was convicted of first degree manslaughter and shooting with intent to kill. He was given consective life sentences. Both so called victims had long criminal records. The judge was retiring and the DA wanted the judgeship so Stanley was used to obtain it. The DA did not have a capital case in his case history so he went after this case. Even OIDS said they had never seen a case like this one being prosecuted so harshly.I met 3 times with former Senator Billy Mickle (D-OK)and was told why the DA was prosecuting Stanley so harshly. He was interested in defending him but we could not afford his fee. Some how we have to stop these unfair sentencings. People are being sentenced unfairly for political, financial, racial bias,personal gain and yes revenge. We were so totally naive about our judicial system. We believed in truth and justice. Boy did we learn a lesson. I now call my home state of nearly 60 years “Oklahoma Penal State” Maybe that should be our state license plate motto.

  7. Very informative look at the prison population in Oklahoma and what has led to the increase. One of the factors so many people overlook when examining prison overcrowding is the role that chemical poisoning plays in criminal behavior. Much of what is considered criminal behavior is home grown because of lax chemical regulations that allow for our communities and our children to be chemically poisoned, which has a direct impact on their brain development. Lead poisoning is an example that is currently making national news, but the lead is only one of the many chemicals our children are exposed to that produce poor outcomes for our children’s brain development. We know the effects of lead poisoning on brain development, not so much for some of the others. To criminalize behavior that is occurring as a direct result of our nation’s pursuit of profits over people is the true crime in America, people cannot limit or prohibit exposure to chemicals in our environment, only the government can do that, but our government has been broken by the very people we elect to protect us. Maybe it’s time for our government to stop protecting the profits of corporations and start protecting our children from the effects of the chemical poisoning of them by the corporations. If we don’t want more criminals, perhaps we should stop poisoning our children with the chemicals that cause their brains to fail to develop proper functioning.

  8. I’m in muskogee co we have many recycled drug addicts the jail is full of them. My daughter Ann Harris is sitting in rogers co right now. She is looking at 21 years to cc with charges in muskogee co where she was doing drug court. Drug court failed my daughter she didn’t fail on her own she failed drug test twice done a,week in jail both times when the people running drug court saw a pattern beginning they should have put her in a,rehab that has ligit results that’s not what happened and now my daughter with her court appoint lawyer that won’t fight for her at all is looking at a lot of years. She needs actual help not to be locked away.there are some that just need good help if they continue to repeat offend then long term jail.

  9. As a convicted fellon i have seen this sysstem first hand
    I was convicted of a crime i did not commit in fact i had a affidavit from the person that did commit that crime stating that he was the person that possed the said resadu of meth that was on a set of scales he placed under the seat as we were pulled over
    Plus he had a bag of meth in his pocket
    I had absolute nothing
    I was apointed a lawyer by oids that was paid two hundred fifty dollars to repersent me u get wat u pay for the lawyer refused to show the Da the affidavit and i was convicted of possion and sentenced to 10 years in prison what is the justice in that
    Its all about conviction rate of the poor
    I got out of prison owing more than twenty thousand dollars to the courts on a crime that i did not commit and had leagle proof
    Wake up people
    Justice is a business to profit off of us all
    We pay taxes to have courts plus the fines and costs so yes reform of our judicial system is in sevear need
    Its not justice its business

  10. I work at an Oklahoma prison. What drives the overcrowding are a few issues.
    One, the “War on Drugs” caused the arrest of a lot of people for personal use drugs. Those people arrested had to go somewhere.
    And, there is absolutely no standard when it comes to sentencing. If you look at 10 random inmates with the exact same crime, first offense, they will have 10 totally different sentences.
    This is just what I’ve noticed from working 8+ years at an Oklahoma Correctional Center.

  11. I’ve seen everything from an inmate doing 10 years for a partial marijuana cigarette (where most dealers are serving far less) to inmate doing 40 years for exposing himself to a minor (where inmates that have done far worse are serving a lot less).
    I don’t agree with their crimes, but there should be a standard.
    Several years ago, I read an article about a federal sentencing grid that did just that. If the state adopted that grid, the federal governement would provide funding to implement it. It was supposed to be retroactive to those already serving sentences. This grid would have reduced our prison population dramatically.
    Oklahoma refused to adopt this policy.
    Up until recently, we were the only state that had the governor in the parole process. This led to a lot of offenders not getting paroled by the Governor.

  12. I just go on and one.
    Not to mention the understaffing. I’m at a medium security facility. I manage over 200 offenders in an open bay environment, by myself.
    Federal staffing standards are taken by dividing the total number of inmates by the total nuber of staff employed at the facility. That doesn’t really paint an accurate picture of the dangers to staff that are extremely outnumbered. Due to understaffing, we have been working 12 hour days, 5 days a week. Recently, without much in staff increases, our hours are being cut. Basically doing away with any backup officers. Working at less than the bare minimum. All in the name of saving money. Probably, so someone can get a raise.
    This makes for an extremely unsafe environment for the offenders, the staff, the officers and the public.
    The fix is not that difficult. Institute a standard in sentencing and get some of the offenders serving unfare sentences out of prison. Look at medical paroles. There are inmates on their death bed being supported by the Department of Corrections.
    And, raise the wages of the Correctional Officers in order to increase staffing. Oklahoma is one of the lowest paying in the country. But, one of the more overcrowded.

  13. I think that the first time someone is sentenced to prison for drug offenses wgich correlates with addictuon and mental health that they should have to do a structured rehab set up like drug court with a minimum of 1 year and upon completion released from prison. Why pay for drug courts when they can get all the same things in prison. Seems to me we are paying for it twice especially when someone like my husband enters drug court on 4 DUI’s for a 5 year sentence he already served a total of 10 months in county (total for each dui) then he did a total of 10 months at different rehabs (again total for each time he got a new dui) then did 16 months of drug court to be terminated for 3 relapses of which he caught a pi and eluding (that he still has NOT plead guilty too) but was terminated. He tried to fake a UA but felt bad so by his own admission and then paying and taking anither UA within minutes and sanctioned for 20 days and he was terminated even after he continued to participate for almost 5 months. Started gis own aa meeting 90/90 iver by his own choice, and upped gis counseling hours plus he attended training for a job and 4 days after he was finally hired (because he lost his previous job for the 20 day sanction) he was terminated ad a total of $4000.00 cost to our family. It seems very unjust all the way down to the fact that our own attorney continued to tell s how the DA was gunning for him. If thats the case and we even asked she should have bewn removed from the case. It was all set up the attorney “lost” our file and blamed us saying thats why we tell u to make copies which we had copies at our home. The peraon that administered the UA said that my husband handed him the fake ua as they were walking down the hallway, before he was even in the bathroom, that in itself is a blatant lie and nothing but one aa paper that my husband had in his back picket was submitted for evidence on patricks behalf nit even the letter fro his counselor at red rock stating. “That it would be detrimental to terminate him. That he had showed great prigress and the fact that although he fell back into old behaviors and patterns he also admitted to the wrong doing within minutes displaying that there is growth and maturity in his thinking” he took the stand apologized and admitted to what he had done wrong not to mention there was one UA that he 5 days prior failed fir alcohol and he requested it be aent off to labs. They held that against him and fuess what it was a false positive. U have a man who has been to prison 2 times prior and obviously has a long hiatory of addiction and substance abuse pkus is dyslexic so he reads and writes at a 3rd grade level. After years of the same thing u finally see growth. He was making the right chouces because he wanted too he had just gotten a goid job and in 16 months he faild 2 uas bith sanctioned for although during trial the da said it wasnt a sanction the last one for 20 days and the cooridnator agreed hiwever they listed it in his terminatuon papera statinf that after previous sanctions he showed no change. But in trial they say he was only sanctioned ONE time and again he got new charhes pi and eluding those too were reason for termination and were supposed to teack with the other cases but they “forgot” to handle those so they just sit there. How can a da honestly terminate someone who is in a program set up and deaigned and specifically states that relapse new charges faking uas etc is all expected that it takes time to began working towards correcting years of abuse. He was sanctioned once according to them and failed 2 UA bttom line da wanted him and she should be the one gone. She and other das like her corrupt everything tgis state is working towards. There is a huge problem with ppl plea bargaining out on things that really they should have never caught a charge with to begin with and then if ur like patrick ur doomes because well loom at hia history not to mention just like he said i should havenjust went and done my time it would all be iver with prison is much easier for some. Im the one that now has to work and support the family and our boys now deal with him being gone did he make bad choices yes he did but when u have done 10 months in county and 3 months in rehab (if we just count the last one) and then 16 months in drug court amd was actually doing goid (the judge even stated amd its on record that alrhough she disafreed with the das decision because she thought he was doing exceptionally well she could understand why the da did what she did” the da says its because faking a ua threatens the program well if he was a threat then why was he allowed to continue in it by his own choice for 5 more months and 4000.00 later and according to word on the street the attirney knew to never take our money becauae the DA wasnt offerinf anything else. 2 years and tons of not juat our money but tax payers ? for him to end up right back in county to go serve his 5 years. At this point his last dui was iver 3 years ago. The problem is within the systwm itself. We have toi many attorneys shaking hands with the da and too many peiple plea bargaining out instead of trying to look at the individuals life and apply whats best to help with the problem. Drug court was harder he will be hime by christmas and thats what the problem is even he said it was pure revenge he had built a reputation and as long as he lived and was tried in that county he will always suffer for it. So basically there is no program to cut down over crowded prisons if we dont recognize the corruption hapoening within our system. This county is corrupt

  14. Thats my point drug court is worthless and a waste of time. Its expensive and it holds prison iver a persons head who uses in place of coping. They show favoritism and rarely do they actually try to individualize a person’s plan. 5 months in county, 3 months in rehab, and 16 months in drug court and because of 3 relapses, resulting in 2 failed UA’s out of over 200 he failed 2, and according to the DA ONE 4 day sanction, which was 9 days after he entered. So this system set up to reform our prisons and help with an obvious mental/addiction issue terminates him for faking a UA which is only known by his own admission and minutes after he did it he felt bad admitted and paid for a 2nd UA and took it so he is terminated and back in county waiting to go do his 5 years which has really already been served if u look at all the county and rehab time plus 16 months of drug court who would want that program. He gets all the same options in prison as far as counseling support groups aa meeting church education etc get rid of drug court and structure a year minimum in a prison usinf the same guidelines and then a re entry program why pay for drug court when u have DA’s gunning for a person and the end result is the same and in many cases far worse. To me we look so foolish as a state to do something lime this not to mentuon the 56,000$ we owe in fines and court costs. I dont think the problem is the offender as much as it is the attorneys and das and judges. A man sees a cop car runs as the cop car pulls up and rolls down his window he yells stop ur under arrest and the defendant says what for and he says pi and eluding! One how does tgis cop know if this man has had a drink at all, 2 pi ia a ridiculous charge. It should be illegal to charge anyone with public intoxication for a few drinks. How would this cop know if anything has been consumed he hasn’t even made contact with him and 2 its only eluding if u run after u have been given direction to stop so the defendant ram as he saw a cop car. For someone who has been in trouble they get scared but he stopped when he was told now should this guy pay for an attorney and all the fees associated because a police officer illegally arrested him. When do we start holding the juatice system accountable for the corrupt and illegal activity they do? Until then i dont see a solution. An attorney should never take anyones money already kbowing what deal the Da is gonna offer and then talk his client into taking the deal. And that happens all the time in those small town buddy system’s. I dont even think a person should go before a judge in the same community becauae repeat offenders are already assumed guilty because if the past and that goes against what the court system says its supposed to do

  15. I was scheduled to go from phase 2 into phase 3 in Tulsa County’s Sarah Smiths court when i was revoked anx sentenced to the maximum time allowed for the dui crime, the 7 year plea required to enter said program. There had been not a single infraction and i comolefed 30 day residential at Valley Hope prior to admittance. ($10,000 cost) I was on probation in Creek County for APC.. (Dui without dui) Drew Edmonson, Oklahoma Attorney General disqualified Creek County from prosecuting. . yet Creek County goes to Tulsa and gets me revoked after allowing me in Tulsa Drug Court.. And they are in Creek County Court when the APC sentence is revoked… Yelling and threatening me.. Oklahoma Drug Court Act should be reduced to the very last sentence and not waste paper.. “The drug court judge can revoke anyone and anytime for any reason, or no reason at all. Drug court makes a participant plea to an exaggerated sentence, puts you in an illegal, non adversary system without council, removes your right for due process, pleads you guilty and then needs no reason to terminate. Is that the system our founding fathers set up for us? NO! Its a kangaroo court. I lost 3 businesses and my family. . went in rich came out riding a bus. Now after 9 years from the last dui i vet another one going down I-40. The same DA that was disqualified now is qualified and wants 20 years.. He stood up at my Creek county revocation in 2006 and said “I’ll be waiting for you when you get out” and he was disqualified.. I threw my new wealth to the wind and left the country.. When i do face these charges i want a jury.. And while i waiting to “pull chains” the.Tulsa World says this ..DA is.arrested in Mannford driving drunk as a skunk.. Taken to their police station and his car impounded.. Then that police chief intervenes and drives him home.. Officers fired.. That town ia about 10 miles from his house. I know because he had me ouf there before.. I just wouldn’t play ball.. The fox is Oklahoma, it is guarding their henhouse, (CCA, Private Probation, Prisons and people all Operating Under Official Color) Absolutely accountable to no one!! Wouldn’t. You like some progection while they enjoy complete immunity?

  16. Another thing.. I have no other priors except apc and dui.. For example tbe exact same charge that Oklahoma claims deserves 20years!!!! In California carries 4 days to 6 months and is a misdemeanor. . There highways are safer by far then Oklahoma. And anotber thing I never had an.accident, had a DL and insurance. Plus it was not aggravated. I recommend everyone get out of Oklahoma while you still can… Let those perfect people police themselves in their police state.. My family has been in Oklahoma since before statehood.. They had no idea and lost a son, brother, father and provider…”Me”.. And lost for ever-amen..

  17. It’s a great system, isn’t it? Well, no, but are we insane? Yes, because we believe we can pour more money into a decrepit and out-dated system, and it will then create a better result. Until you study how we got here (Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennsylvania), and understand how any bureaucracy warps its mission to suit its budgetal cravings, we are stuck. Right! Boring! Nobody wants to study! That means thinking: about applying resources (not just public funds) to goals, and tracking who can succeed with the least resources. What? Competition? Yes, once you anoint a state bureaucracy with a monopoly, what do you expect? BUT, you like this system, and unfortunately you won’t listen to any alternatives. Enjoy it! I have offered an omnibus system that empties county jails, and converts all inmates into taxpayers — instantly, but you don’t want that. The only concept Oklahomans know is “behind bars.” Wow! That is so productive! Just lock ’em up and those prisons will be so . . . so … WHAT? Cruel? Corrupt? Warped? CRIMINAL Universities!! that everyone being released (huh??? They release those people: Okies cannot think that far in advance: Okies believe ya just lock ’em up and they go away. OMG! DOC releases those ‘criminals’: who now cannot vote, even apply for a decent job, but even if they could, have no skills or job history. What are they gonna do? Simple! They’re gonna sell drugs; commit crimes they learned about in the “University,” and we are gonna call that “supervised parole.” Folks there are some screws loose here, but it’s not on the criminals: ‘we have met the dummy and it is us’!

  18. I served 4 calendars DOC time. I can’t speak about men’s facility but Mabel Basset (women’s facility) is overcrowded. Drugs are as easy to get in there as they are out here maybe easier. I have seen drug court work for individuals who want to succeed, people who really want to change. But for people who don’t want to change won’t change behaviors. Alcohol and drugs were readily available no matter what facility I was in. I agree that Oklahoma sends entirely too many to prison. Statically Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any state. Until society makes some changes our prison population will continue to grow and the age of the offender gets younger.


  20. Oklahoma is backwards and corrupt. When your prison population is 2nd now. That tells me something is wrong. Prison for profit I guess. I lived there for many years and was almost arrested for leaving an abuser. Yep you read that right. This was before the laws changed in 2011. A time when murder suicide was a daily news story. When it wasn’t against the law to rape your wife and abuse was nothing more than disapline.
    I tried to put all of that behind me thinking that I was imagining it all. Until my son got caught up in the system. He said the wrong thing to the wrong person well sort of. What he did was legal 100%. As the law stands.The DA even agreed. He was sentenced because of what he might have done and because of his abuse he suffered as a child. That is it. He has no priors not even a parking ticket on his record. He didn’t get minimum he got maximum plus 85% for not even breaking the law.
    Yep oklahoma is a very corrupt state.

  21. Whats the percentage of Oklahoma inmates that are not US citizens? Whats the cost to Oklahoma tax payers per year to keep someone locked up who shouldn’t be here to begin with?

  22. Thanks Ryan for republishing my two-year-old comment: nothing has changed! Not even since I offered systemic changes 20 years ago to this archaic, irrational, and–according to Sara– “corrupt” system. Are there alternative? None in place, and no one who wants to listen or make any changes–other than window-dressing. SO ! Excluding the OK Policy Institute staff and their 3rd degree family members, I will award $ 100.00 cash to the first person who can solve this equation: IF Oklahoma’s current prison population is PP + Y; and “Y” is the arbitrary “overcrowded” number. isn’t the goal to eliminate “Y” and (be happy?) with PP? PM is William B. Maxwell

  23. The incarceration rate in Oklahoma will continue to rise until a change is made in the criminal justice system itself. There is no doubt that in Oklahoma the color of justice is green. Regardless of the color, if a person of low income finds theirself in the system there is literally no chance of receiving a fair deal. Many plead guilty of crimes they haven’t commited , either because they are threatened with harsher time, trusts a public defender, who works for the same people whos convicting them, or cannot handle one more day and county and will sign a plea deal just to get out.
    Prison sentences should be the same time for the same crime. Sentencing guidelines should be followed. The 85% is such a problem because a judge will sentence me to 25 years in prison for a robbery charge, but Sally receives 2 years for the same exact crime. If robbery is commited the same amount of time should be given to all robbery convictions. A judge having a bad day should not be allowed to give an individual 45 years or more for a robbery charge. These Judges should have overseers who revise some of these unreasonable sentences. Everyone should be accountable especially when dealing with peoples lives.

    1. All states believe their “punishment” model is the ONLY safe model for stopping/addressing crime. As a deterrent to crime, it fails: simple bulging prisons prove that: What would? Increasing “punishment” to the constitutional maximum MIGHT, but most have no idea what that is. Ignorance dictates that a convict has no ‘choice,’ but if she chose the maximum punishment, there is a greater likelihood she will complete it. In short, Oklahoma does not know how to punish, and obtain real, provable results. DOC statistics are a farce. Oklahoma’s ignorance of other methods will remain,and we will keep throwing money into the 1800’s model for justice.

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