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Crime and Punishment

Written by Dick Pryor on Thursday October 27, 2011


The Sheet

October 30, 2011

The United States has 5% of the world's population and puts 23% of its people in the criminal justice system. Oklahoma is among the world leaders in the percentage of our people that we put behind bars. Our state is third in incarceration of men and first in incarceration of women and our prison population has maxed out our available resources.

It is a critical juncture in Oklahoma's criminal justice system, and now an ongoing study from the Council of State Governments' Justice Reinvention Project sheds new light on what is working, and what is not, in Oklahoma. Speaker of the House Kris Steele and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones recently visited Oklahoma communities to share the news and get citizen feedback.

This week on Oklahoma Forum, we discuss the findings in the new Justice Reinvestment Project report on Oklahoma's criminal justice system, with our guests Justin Jones, Director, Oklahoma Department of Corrections; Darrell Weaver, Director, Oklahoma Department of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs; Richard Dugger, Chair, Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board; and Greg Mashburn, District Attorney, Dist. 21 (Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties).

This is a huge subject with serious implications on state government, its budget and the well-being of our citizens. One of the factors that stands out in the report is that while corrections spending has gone up 41% in Oklahoma, the violent crime rate remains virtually unchanged. This, while at least 36 other states have seen new approaches lead to a decrease in the violent crime rate. And, as we learned on the program, much of the violent crime is related to drugs and a large majority of the persons incarcerated in Oklahoma are behind bars on drug convictions.

It is interesting that all our guests agreed that more law enforcement officers on the streets, community and alternative sentencing, and greater investment in education, treatment and community supervision are needed to reduce the strain on Oklahoma's prisons, families and state budget. Lack of funding and political will, it appears, is all that is standing in the way of needed change.

Nationwide, spending on corrections has risen faster in the last 20 years (from 1988 to 2008) than any other budget item except Medicaid. That stress on the budget is one of the biggest drivers behind corrections reform. And, its not coming anytime too soon. This is a topic we will be following closely in the months ahead.

Thanks for reading. Until next time,

Dick Pryor

 (Pictured above, left to right:  Host Dick Pryor, Justin Jones, Darrell Weaver, Richard Dugger, and Greg Mashburn)

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