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March 10, 2013

State’s prison overloadbacking up county jails

NORMAN — The state’s 26,000-inmate prison system is so full it’s backing up sentenced prisoners into county jails. If it keeps up, Cleveland County’s 114,500 square foot jail on Franklin Road could be full before the end of the year.

The $26 million facility has two of the three “pods” open with about 400 prisoners. Opening a third “pod” could expand the jail to about 580 prisoners.

It may be needed as Oklahoma lawmakers continue to add felony crimes to the books and extend penalties for certain crimes.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative that lawmakers passed and Gov. Mary Fallin signed in 2012 doesn’t seem to have any traction in reducing numbers. While other states’ incarceration rates fall, Oklahoma prisons have expanded.

Oklahoma is the fifth highest state in terms of incarceration.

We lead the nation in percentage of women in prison. The Associated Press reports the state spends about $460 million on the Department of Corrections, third highest budget item behind education and human services.

Corrections officials in January said they needed an extra $6 million to make it through the fiscal year and another $60 million in their budget for next year. The governor’s budget calls for a $1 million increase.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, pushed by then Speaker Kris Steele, is a program used in other states that emphasizes rehabilitation, supervision and alternative forms of sentencing for of non-violent offenders. Federal funds to help implement the program were rejected by Gov. Fallin.

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