State Rep. Kevin Matthews said he requested a legislative study on incarceration and at-risk youth because he wanted to search for ways to creating better outcomes for Oklahoma families.
“I understand that Oklahomans want to see criminals locked up, but we are No. 1 in incarcerating females, because we may be locking up women who would not be considered criminals in other states, and who have unresolved mental, emotional and substance abuse problems,” said Matthews, D-Tulsa. “I think that while the state successfully rehabilitates a small percentage of these women, we need to expand successful alternate sentencing and diversion programs. The study also looked at how incarcerating women leads to trauma, financial hardship, social stigmas and instability in their children. Today’s presenters made several policy recommendations that I want to share with my colleagues and see if there is anything we can do to create better outcomes through legislation in the upcoming legislative session.”
Cleveland County’s Second Chance Access Pilot (S-CAP) Program is a model Matthews would like to see expanded statewide. The county has one of the lowest female incarceration rates in Oklahoma, ranking 74 out of 79 counties. Since the program’s inception, the recidivism rate in the county dropped from 70 percent to 8 percent. It also reduced the rate at which defendants fail to appear in court.
“The S-CAP program begins to address the mental, emotional and substance abuse issues as soon as they are picked up by the county sheriff’s department and targets nonviolent female offenders for alternative sentencing and diversion,” Matthews said. “I think the evidence shows that it is a highly successful program and a model for the state.”
The Resonance Center for Women in Tulsa is also a diversion program that could be expanded for women who are nonviolent offenders, Matthews said. The program promotes and supports the well-being and self-sufficiency of women and their families challenged by their experience with the criminal justice system.
During the study, the Oklahoma House of Representatives Public Safety Committee heard from:
- Lisa Smith, Executive Director Oklahoma Commission on Children & Youth;
- Deidra A. Kirtley, Executive Director Resonance Center for Women;
- Carmen Petty Ticus, Executive Director Technical Institute of Cosmetology, Arts, & Sciences;
- Kim Johnson, Deputy Director, Chief Innovation Officer Tulsa County Library;
- Ellen Ingram, Interim Executive Director Oklahoma Women’s Coalition;
- and S-CAP’s Senior Navigator Beth Jones and Community Outreach Coordinator Lisa Lewis.
- Convene a bipartisan commission to research laws and sentencing options in other states with a lower female incarceration rate,
- Expand diversion programs such as S-CAP and Resonance statewide,
- Incorporate literacy, financial literacy and career development into rehabilitation programs,
- Establish support mechanisms for the children of incarcerated parents,
- and create programs to help caregivers get children to visitations.