NORMAN — Don’t look for much relief this legislative session for the state’s bloated prison population. Lawmakers expect to have some new revenue this year but many expect common schools to get first crack at the cash.
Efforts to make a long-term dent in the state’s prison numbers have slowed now that the chief proponent Kris Steele is no longer Speaker of the House. Mr. Steele, who was a reasonable voice for prison reform, and others resigned from the group that was working to implement the Justice Reinvestment Initiative passed in 2012.
They blamed the governor’s office for slow-playing the legislation that she signed after the past session. The biggest part of the initiative is drug and alcohol treatment to defer defendants from prison. It also calls for better supervision of all inmates who are leaving prison in order to reduce the recidivism rate and a change in the way minor parole violators are punished.
The Tulsa World quotes longtime Corrections Department watchers as saying the state locks up too many people for too long. Lawmakers don’t want to appear soft on crime and continually add to the list of crimes where defendants have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.
Additionally, prison staffing has reached critical levels. A proposal to raise the salary of all state prison workers five percent was tabled. It would have boosted the starting pay from $11.83 to $14 per hour.