The problem: Oklahoma's incarceration rate and health

The state leads the nation in incarceration rate and makes people less employable when they are released from prison. Also, Oklahoma has a low rate of positive health outcomes in many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, lung disease and cancer, leading to lower workforce participation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This year marks a decade since we launched Women in Recovery, a program that offers an alternative to incarceration for women facing imminent prison sentences in Tulsa County.

Over these 10 years, we have graduated 479 women from our program.

Roughly 85% of women in Oklahoma prisons are mothers. Oklahoma sends nearly twice as many women to prison per capita as the national average, and our state has had one of the highest female imprisonment rates in the country for nearly three decades.

At WIR, we have been able to divert 623 women (current participants and graduates) and avoid 1,137 combined years in the Department of Corrections, saving the state more than $25.6 million.

One of the biggest reasons for Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis is the use of sentence enhancements and extreme prison sentences. Compared to other states, people spend nearly 70% longer in prison for property crimes and 79% longer for drug crimes.

I have seen firsthand the impact of sentencing enhancements on families. This crisis is tearing families apart and hurting our communities.

A diverse and bipartisan coalition recently filed a ballot initiative that will dramatically reduce the use of ineffective sentencing enhancements. The proposed amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution would end the use of sentence enhancements for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

I endorse and urge my fellow Oklahomans to support this important initiative. I believe we can do better for the countless men and women facing incarceration in our state.

Editor’s Note: Mimi Tarrasch is the chief program officer of Women in Recovery & Women’s Justice Programs at Family and Children’s Services.

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Send letters to letters@tulsaworld.com.


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