Criminal Justice Reform in Oklahoma

Problems:

Oklahoma currently has the second highest imprisonment rate in the country and since 1991, has had the highest rate of imprisonment among women. Its prison population is projected to grow by 25% in the next ten years, reaching over 35,700 beds. The state’s prisons are already over-capacity, and Oklahoma will have to build or lease three new prisons, two for males and one for females, to cope with this growth.

Locking up these offenders comes at a great cost to the state: Oklahoma currently spends half a billion dollars annually on corrections, and the projected growth of the prison system will cost taxpayers $1.2 billion in capital expenditures and an additional $700 million in operating costs over 10 years.

Solution:

Oklahoma has passed a 2018 bill that creates parole eligibility requirements for ex-offenders and will help alleviate prison overcrowding. Additionally, in 2018, Oklahoma passed SB 224 which increases the age of “juvenile” to 19 years old and requires all juveniles to be represented by an attorney in every hearing, as well as SB SB 649, which eliminates the ability of prosecutors to seek sentence enhancements for drug-related offenses.

Recent Update:

Oklahoma recently legislated HB 3393, the Dignity Bill, which intends to respect the dignity of incarcerated women. This bill applies specifically to pregnant incarcerated women, and prevents the use of restraints when transporting these inmates to labor and delivery, or while they’re in postpartum. While they are pregnant, this bill calls for the least restrictive restraints to be used.

Recommendations:

    • Reserve prison beds for serious and violent offenders to reduce the prison population, save money, and promote community-based alternatives for nonviolent offenders
    • Improve release and reentry practices to help ex-offenders re-enter society more easily so as to reduce the risk of recidivism
    • Strengthen probation and parole supervision to reduce the recidivism rate
    • Ensure oversight and accountability so as to ensure laws are effective and offenders are held accountable

If adopted by the legislature, criminal justice reforms would reduce the projected prison population by 9,370 beds, resulting in an 8% reduction in the current prison population and $1.9 billion in averted spending over the next decade. Despite the widespread support for reform, some legislators are looking to keep Oklahoma as a top incarcerator in the nation. Contact your legislator today to tell them you support Criminal Justice Reform in the Sooner State!

RECENT NEWS: Dignity for Incarcerated Women Advances at ALEC, American Conservative Union Scores Win with Approval of ALEC Model Bil

Washington, D.C. – At the winter meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force adopted landmark model legislation on incarcerated women. The “Dignity for Incarcerated Women” model bill is intended to provide a template for every state legislature to improve policies for women behind bars. This key effort was sponsored by the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF), along with key ALEC members, Rep. Bernie Satrom (R-ND) and Rep. Kim Moser (R-KY).

“Women are the fastest growing population in our prison system. The number of women behind bars in the United States has increased by more than 700% since the 1980s, nearly twice the rate at which the male population has grown. As a result, the United States holds approximately 30% of all the world’s incarcerated women,” explained Kaitlin Owens, a policy analyst at the ACU Foundation. “Despite these increasing numbers, the unique needs and challenges of incarcerated women are often overlooked. Our goal is to make sure that prison protocols and procedures can adequately meet the most basic standards of health and safety for all inmates,” said Owens.

In addition to better training for corrections professionals, the model bill has four key provisions: 1) Banning the shackling of pregnant inmates, which has been cited as a risk to mother and child by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology; 2) Limiting the ability of male guards to view women in a state of undress unless there is a bona fide security concern and no female guards are available; 3) Encouraging departments of corrections to place female offenders in prisons near family members to facilitate visitation by spouses and children; and 4)Ensuring that women have access to sufficient feminine hygiene products while incarcerated.

When a model policy is approved by ALEC, it is sent to every legislator in the country to serve as a template for state-specific bills. David Safavian, American Conservative Union general counsel, noted that the adoption of the model Dignity bill is the most recent step in a nationwide campaign to improve conditions for incarcerated women: “We are working with conservative activists in state capitols across the country to enact Dignity legislation. As a result, we’ve seen Dignity bills pass in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Connecticut, and regulations issued in Arizona. The ALEC model bill is impactful because it gives our legislative allies a running start in every state.”

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