OKLAHOMA CITY —- A bill that would pay criminal justice programs for successfully reducing incarceration costs is headed to the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 1278 recently passed two panels and is set to be heard on the Senate floor.

The measure would authorize the state to enter into "Pay-for-Success" contracts with nonprofits that provide programs which successfully divert people from prison.

"Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate in the country for several years now," said Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, author of the legislation. "Oklahoma's history of imprisoning nonviolent women, rather than treating them, is expensive, ineffective and damaging to families. It's important that we offer alternatives to incarceration to get these women rehabilitated and back to the work force and their families.

"Incarceration and poverty are a vicious cycle in our state that we can stop by giving these women the counseling and education they need to get clean, find a job and be able to support themselves without returning to a life of drugs and crime."

David said the bill was written for the Women in Recovery program in Tulsa, but others could apply. The provider must have at least $2 million in capital, according to the bill.

Family & Children's Services' Women in Recovery program began in 2009 as an alternative to incarceration for women who have drug and alcohol addictions and face prison sentences, said its director, Mimi Tarrasch.

The program has admitted about 300 women with 131 graduates. Another 102 are current participants.

Ken Levit is executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which helped create Women in Recovery.

He said the state saves money that would have been spent on incarceration when women successfully complete the program.

The bill currently does not have a funding source, but merely creates a revolving fund, David said.

The state would pay nothing until there is a successful outcome, David said.

"Utilizing Pay-for-Success contracts is a fiscally responsible way for Oklahoma to address our incarceration rates," David said. "The state only pays after services have been delivered and if specific outcomes and monetary savings are achieved; otherwise, the state owes nothing. Another financial benefit of using these contracts is that the state payment will never exceed the state's savings created through the contracted programs."

The bill currently is designed to create a pilot project in Tulsa County, David said. It could be expanded if successful, she said.

Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465

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