DOC continues to struggle for space
BY World's Editorials Writers
Thursday, December 06, 2012
12/06/12 at 3:18 AM
Oklahoma takes one step forward toward reducing its high per-capita incarceration rate and two steps back. Now, the prison system has run out of space for new female inmates.
How did this happen, after all the publicity and work toward reducing the female incarceration rate, which is the highest per-capita in the nation? Simple math: "We have fewer females discharging so far this year and we have more coming in," Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones told the Board of Corrections.
In the past few years more female offenders have been diverted from prison through such efforts as the successful Women in Recovery program. But many women aren't eligible for that program or live in areas where alternatives to incarceration are limited. Also, with Oklahoma's 85 percent rule, inmates committing certain serious offenses must remain in prison longer.
If more space isn't freed up, DOC soon might have few alternatives but to turn to private prison beds unless it wants to build more prisons, which takes time and money. Certain Republican leaders support the use of private prisons. Reliance on private prisons, however, is a double-edged sword.
Eventually, Oklahoma should be able to reduce its crime and incarceration rate through the Justice Reinvestment initiative passed last session under former House Speaker Kris Steele. The initiative will require continued commitment on the part of new legislative leadership. We'll find out early in the new session if that commitment is there or if it's going to be business as usual.
In the meantime, the DOC will continue to do what it has spent most of the past 30 years doing: trying to find enough space to house an overflow crowd. The cost of locking up so many people might be justified if the crime rate statewide - especially the violent crime rate - was dropping dramatically as a result of so much incarceration. That hasn't been the case.
What's that old definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result? Sounds crazy but that's exactly what Oklahoma continues to do.
Original Print Headline: Overflow