Photo credit: Tom Luker/Tulsa World
As Oklahomans, we are accustomed to bracing ourselves for the worst whenever a new list of state rankings comes out. But our newest claim to the bottom spot should alarm taxpayers above and beyond the norm.
Oklahoma has long claimed the dubious distinction of being the number-one incarcerator of women. However, as of this month, we have officially overtaken Louisiana as the state with the largest per capita prison population across the board.
These latest figures, compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative, make a case for reform all on their own. Oklahoma locks up people at a rate of 1,079 per 100,000 residents. That is more than 150 percent higher than the nationwide average of 698 per 100,000.
When matched against incarceration rates among other industrialized first-world countries, the comparison becomes even more appalling. England’s rate is 141, Canada is 114, and Germany is 78 per 100,000. Even oppressive third-world governments, from Afghanistan (88) to Zimbabwe (120), lock up their citizens at a fraction of the rate of Oklahoma. The data is conclusive. Oklahoma does not just have the highest incarceration rate in the country — it’s the highest on the planet.
The legislature passed several significant criminal justice reform bills in 2018. However, even with the implementation of those bills, coupled with the impact of State Question 780, Oklahoma’s inmate population is still projected to steadily rise over the next 10 years. The economic and sociological drain on taxpayers, while not as bad as before, will still get worse. Our progress is encouraging but far from over.
Governor Fallin has been a tremendous champion for reform and we hope her successor, whoever that might be, will pick up the baton after she leaves office. Our next Governor will have two strong advocates in the legislature next year in Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Majority Whip Terry O’Donnell.
We strongly encourage the winner of November’s election to immediately collaborate with our top legislative leaders to make criminal justice reform a top priority. Oklahoma is woefully behind the rest of the country when, in fact, we should be leading the other states on conservative criminal justice reform.