The Norman Transcript

Opinion

March 14, 2014

Program keeps women out of state prisons

NORMAN — Legislation making changes in the way Oklahoma locks up prisoners is nothing new at the Capitol. Every session sees another idea to reform our system of criminal justice. Sometimes the legislation doesn’t have a champion and it goes nowhere.

If lawmakers approve and the governor supports its implementation, a pilot program that helps keep women out of prison could make a difference in lives and in overcrowded prisons. It could make a dent in Oklahoma’s claim to locking up more women per capita than any other state.

Senate Bill 1278, authored by Sens. Kim David and Sean Burrage, sailed through the Senate this week. Like the successful drug courts, it is a last-chance effort to stay with their families, get jobs and counseling.

The bill, which is now headed to the House, authorizes the state to contract with programs that have proven track records of turning non-violent women’s lives around. It reduces the public cost of imprisoning women and may end the cycle of incarceration that plagues so many families.

Nonprofit groups, like the successful one in Tulsa that works with more than 100 women, would run the programs and only be reimbursed when the women are successfully rehabilitated.

Eighty-five percent of the women incarcerated in Oklahoma leave children behind, often in the care of relatives or the state.

The reality is that many of the women never make it to state prison beds. They end up serving much of their sentences in county jails, where there is no treatment or mental health services.

We urge House members to get behind the program and find ways to intervene in women’s lives, cut taxpayer costs and help keep the next generation out of prison.

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