Once again, the state of Oklahoma has found itself at the top of the list for an unwanted ranking.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics national census report for 2016, Oklahoma led the nation in female incarceration for the 25th consecutive year at the rate of 149 inmates per 100,000.
As of Friday, Oklahoma state prisons were at 112 percent of capacity, according to the Department of Corrections.
Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant called it “a state issue” adding that everyone needed to work together.
“SQ 780 and 781 really hurt all the county jails state-wide because we’ve got people sitting out their fines,” Bryant said. “We have been over capacity and we are trying to minimize the effects on our own.”
Representative Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) said he has been part of several studies involving prison reform which, he says, Governor Mary Fallin passed in 2010 and 2011 before choosing not to accept federal funding. Ownbey referenced House Bill 2131, which was signed by Fallin in May 2011.
“There is no doubt Oklahoma has major issues,” Ownbey said. “When Texas had those issues, they closed a couple of facilities, but we need more space.”
Oklahoma’s total incarceration rate came in second overall at a rate of 673 per 100,000. Ownbey cited funding as a major challenge, especially in rural areas like Carter County, adding that there is “no question that time must be served for major crimes, but there is also a need for education.”
Education and services provided by agencies that Ownbey says allow women to reduce their time served by participating in programs that help them live independently.
Naomi House, a Carter County residential recovery program for women, offers similar services that allow women charged with non-violent drug offenses to overcome their addiction and re-enter society.
“The reason for over-crowding is the number of people serving lengthy prison sentences,” Jason May, Naomi House board president and criminal defense attorney, said, “At the Naomi House, residents typically stay about 6-12 months at the facility.” Residents participate in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, religious services, and mandatory drug testing. Residents are also required to work. Program staff assists residents in finding employment. For those leaving the program, May said, a Grace Fund made up of community donations helps women pay for necessities like rent, furniture, and household items.
“These are the kinds of programs the state will have to offer. It costs a lot more if we don’t do it,” Ownbey said.
Like Bryant, Ownbey said improvements will require cooperation across the board, from local law enforcement, District Attorney’s offices, and the Legislature itself. “It’s not something you can just legislate and fix,” Ownbey said.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh is scheduled to present the agency’s 2019 $1.53 billion budget request at 9 a.m. today at the State Capitol. The request includes a proposal for $813 million for two new prisons.