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Michael Haugen | April 29, 2016
Note: This article’s headline has been changed since original publication.
Facing the prospect of a budget shortfall of over a billion dollars, and having already tapped $27.5 million from the state’s rainy day fund to shore up the correction’s budget, Oklahoma’s legislature has focused in recent months on ways to curb the state’s burgeoning and costly incarceration rate—the nation’s second highest.
Adam Luck, Right on Crime’s Oklahoma Director, states during an interview that compounding the increasing inmate population are staffing levels have been decreasing in the last fifteen years:
“The inmate increase in the 15 years has been about 26%, while staff has gone down about 21%, and continues to go down. When you look at how we compare nationally, the national average is one staff for every five inmates. We actually have the highest inmate to staff ratio in the country—we have one staff for every 11 inmates.”
Kris Steele, Chair of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and a Right on Crime signatory, says that the state is incarcerating more people than they ever have before, yet have fewer available staff to “maintain order,” explaining that state prisons are currently at 123% of capacity, with only 60% of the necessary staff to oversee them.
Within the last week, Oklahoma’s legislature has approved—and Gov. Mary Fallin has signed—a package of bills that seeks to reform sentencing laws, expand the use of drug courts, and allows certain charges to be filed as misdemeanors instead of felonies. These bills contain many of the sort of reforms that have enjoyed success in other conservative states such as Georgia and Texas in the last ten years, and offer the state the opportunity to right-size their prison system while maintaining public safety.
Luck’s and Steele’s further comments can be found in the video below: