NORMAN — Two Oklahoma lawmakers who are working on corrections-related issues know the answer to the state’s prison growth problem: Quit locking everyone up. Keep the violent ones behind bars, and put the non-violent and drug possession offenders in community corrections settings.
Oklahoma’s prison system is at 98 percent capacity, with inmates who have been sentenced still waiting in county jails like Cleveland County’s. Some have been waiting nearly a year for a bed to open up for them in a state prison.
The 26,700 inmates include about 5,800 parked in private prisons throughout the state. Private prisons here also bring in thousands of inmates from other states.
“We’ve got to look at who we’re locking up,” Rep. Gus Blackwell told Oklahoma Watch.
Long-term reform envisioned a few years ago by House Speaker Kris Steele could lead to fewer inmates in state prisons and private prisons. However, much of what Speaker Steele put forth has been set aside.
Staffing is getting to be as big a problem as overcrowding. Guards at state prisons are working multiple double shifts per week.
Drug and non-violent offenders make up 52 percent of the state’s inmates. Programs like drug courts and community corrections councils are helping, but there are far too few of them operating in the state.