Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oklahoma Looks to Cut Prison Costs

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has sought emergency funds from the state legislature to continue operations 12 out of the last 13 years. Since 1995, the prison population has grown from 17,983 inmates to 26,720 and state appropriations have increased from $188 million to more than $461 million, despite the department having trimmed $76 million from its budget in the past two years, according to the Daily Oklahoman.

The department estimates it now needs more than $592 million to operate.

With the legislature's bill-filing deadline for 2011 less than a week away, newly elected Speaker of the House Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, is pushing for a series of short-term steps to reduce the budget strain, including:

1. Enhancing community sentencing programs and mandatory supervision.
2. Limiting the governor's role in the parole process for nonviolent crimes.
3. Defining qualifications for parole board members.
4. Reviewing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes.
5. Effectively utilizing the re-entry program, which involves GPS monitoring.

“I think public safety is a top priority in our state and as a result, historically, Oklahoma's answer to that has been incarceration,” Steele told the Oklahoman. “It's been kind of a one-size-fits-all approach. Lawmakers have been reluctant to dig in ... nobody wants to be perceived to be soft on crime.”

According to the Oklahoman, some reform minded lawmakers have made Oklahoma a state of incarceration—it leads the nation in locking up women on a per-capita basis and is consistently in the top five for incarcerating men. Some lawmakers contend it has helped reduce Oklahoma's crime rate and improved public safety.

“I can tell you from a fiscal standpoint ... (and) from a human resource standpoint we are going to have to do something different,” Steele told the Oklahoman.

To read more: http://newsok.com/oklahoma-lawmakers-seek-to-strike-budget-balance-for-prisons/article/3520793#ixzz17OUEGynU

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