Oklahoma routinely ranks in the top five (5) for incarceration rates of men and has the highest incarceration rate for women in the nation. Recently the Oklahoma Legislature passed House Bill 2131 a piece of legislation designed to reduce Oklahoma’s exploding prison population. Presently Oklahoma incarcerates 26,000 people. (According to the latest census the towns of Claremore, OK and Jenks, OK have a combined population of almost 26,000) At a time when Oklahoma is cutting the amount of money the state is spending on public education the state spent almost 500 million dollars last year incarcerating its citizens. (More than half of Oklahoma’s prison population is nonviolent offenders.)
House Bill 2131 increases the eligibility for community sentencing and GPS monitoring. These two measures will save the tax payers money and reduce the incarceration rate if these alternatives are imposed instead of incarceration. How wide spread the use of these sentencing alternatives will be is an open question.
If the legislature really wants to control the cost of the prison system it should reduce the discretion in the hands of the district attorneys and the judges. In Tulsa County the district attorney’s office files around 5,000 felony cases a year. Many of the prosecutors are young and fresh out of law school. Just one young prosecutor who is over zealous can cost the state hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in unnecessary prison cost.
For example lets say over a year period a young prosecutor, who is attempting to make a name for himself, sends 100 people to prison for 1 year longer than they really need to go to prison. That would cost the state of Oklahoma just over 2 million dollars. A judge that is seeking re-election or just wants to get “tough on crime” can cost the state even more.
Every year the legislature is required to come up with the money to cover all the checks written by inexperienced prosecutors, those young and inexperienced prosecutors have no business making decisions that can cost the tax payers of this state millions and millions of dollars.
There are offenses that have guideline ranges like zero to life. There are other offenses with guideline ranges such as four years to life or five years to life. Even first time simple possession of a controlled dangerous substance carries from two to ten years.
The Oklahoma Legislature should take control of the sentencing ranges so the legislature can better control the prison budget and make better use of tax payer’s money.
My preference would be that the members of the Oklahoma Legislature realize the immorality of spending tax payer money to incarcerating large groups of its nonviolent citizens and that politicians would wisely use tax payer funds to incarcerate those we are afraid of not those we are mad at. When the school children return to school in the fall, I would love to see a larger percentage of the state budget spent on educating them and a smaller percentage would be spent on incarcerating their parents, because it was the right thing to do.
However, like everything else it comes down to the money. Tax payer money will continue to be squandered until the citizens of this state demand that the legislature stop