The Norman Transcript

Local news

September 21, 2013

State’s aging prisons a problem as inmate population grows

NORMAN — Oklahoma’s population grew by about 23 percent between 1980 and 2010, but its prison population during the same time saw a more than 500 percent increase and continues to grow, the former director of the state prison system said Friday.

Justin Jones, in his first public presentation since leaving the Department of Corrections this summer, said compared to other states, Oklahoma locks up a lot of people who have “high needs” but are relatively low-risk offenders.

The state’s rate of recidivism is comparatively low, he said, because many of those who are incarcerated wouldn’t be coming back anyway. Oklahoma spends about 7 percent of its appropriated revenue on corrections.

“We are a nation that relies heavily on incapacitation and incarceration to solve our criminal justice issues,” Jones told atendees at the regular meeting of the Tyner Cornbread and Beans luncheon.

Jones, who began his corrections career as a probation officer in 1977, spoke of two and three generations of families in the same prison. Reaching at-risk youth before they have a felony conviction is the best prevention method, he said.

“The best indicators of a pathway to prison are your biological parents and your zip code,” he said. “We know where the next generations of prisoners are coming from. Seventy percent of them are the children of current inmates.”

Seventy percent of the incoming inmates have some kind of substance abuse problem, and the percentage of inmates with

mental health issues has risen 400 percent in the past 40 years, Jones said. He said the number of inmates over 50 grew 45 percent this past year, presenting health and other aging issues for corrections officials.

Oklahoma’s reliance on private prison beds was a topic of several audience questions. Jones said he was not opposed to outsourcing some government services but prisons and law enforcement may be different.

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