Free Market Friday: What are we doing?

By Michael C. Carnuccio, Guest Columnist

Oklahoma houses more than 25,000 inmates. Only Delaware, Louisiana, Alaska and Texas have higher per-capita incarceration rates. Several commonalities exist for those who are incarcerated: history of family dysfunction, instability, trauma, violence, substance abuse and addiction; socioeconomics, race and ethnicity; mental health issues; and relationships.

According to the 2012 Oklahoma Department of Corrections female offender report, the state incarcerates more women per capita than any other state in the nation. Currently, 121 women per 100,000 population are jailed, compared to the national average of 65. The majority are imprisoned for nonviolent or drug-related offenses.

For most of the state’s history, women made up an average of 3.5 percent of its prison population. However, by 2010, that percentage was nearly 11 percent. During fiscal year 2012, 1,197 female offenders were received into the state DOC. This is an increase of 26 from fiscal year 2011. Also, 75.1 percent of female offenders received in fiscal year 2012 had an assessed need for basic education. Of the 2,648 females incarcerated at the end of fiscal year 2012, 70 percent had an assessed need for basic education.

In light of the high cost of corrections and the state’s continually high incarceration rates, Oklahoma lawmakers worked to change the criminal code in the ‘90s, and some changes included shorter sentences for nonviolent offenders. Yet, Oklahoma, which spends close to 10 percent of state appropriations on corrections, still ranks in the top 10 states in terms of correctional spending. If Oklahoma could lower its incarceration rate to about the national average, it would have 6,100 fewer inmates, and its annual corrections budget would shrink by an estimated $100 million.

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