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OK Criminal Justice Bill Takes New Approach to Holding Offenders Accountable for Crimes

With one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States, Oklahoma lawmakers recently found themselves at a crossroads – either spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new prisons to house a projected 9% increase in state inmates during the next ten years, or adopt new policies to minimize the increase in prison costs …

With one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States, Oklahoma lawmakers recently found themselves at a crossroads – either spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new prisons to house a projected 9% increase in state inmates during the next ten years, or adopt new policies to minimize the increase in prison costs and continue to protect public safety. Legislation approved by the Senate and state House marks a shift in Oklahoma’s incarceration policies that supporters say will slow prison growth, make Oklahoma communities safer, and hold offenders more accountable for their crimes. With this new initiative, law enforcement officials in Oklahoma will have even more resources at their disposal to enforce the law and arrest offenders. If you are facing criminal charges in Oklahoma, your first course of action should be to contact a qualified criminal defense attorney for legal help. At Oklahoma Legal Center, our Oklahoma City lawyers are experienced in protecting the rights of individuals charged with criminal offenses, and can help defendants build a strong case for their defense.

High Oklahoma Incarceration Rates

Oklahoma has the third highest overall incarceration rate in the country and the highest incarceration rate for women. At the end of April 2012, there were 25,739 inmates in the custody of the state Department of Corrections, including 18,062 in DOC facilities, which represents 97% of their capacity. And Oklahoma’s inmate count has shown steady growth in recent years; At the end of April 2008, there were 25,324 prisoners in DOC custody, including 17,870 in DOC facilities, which represents about 99% capacity. “I do not believe that Oklahoma can continue on the path that we’re currently on,” said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee.” Referring to the new legislation, Steele says, “It’s a very, very important initiative. We’re talking about doing things we’ve never done before.”

Certain Crimes on the Rise in OK

Corrections spending has increased about 30% over the last decade, and the statewide corrections budget this year is about $460 million. Corrections officials are seeking almost $491 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. And while the violent crime rate nationwide decreased by 20% from 2000 to 2010, Oklahoma’s violent crime rate decreased by less than 4%. In fact, certain types of crime rose significantly in parts of the state. In Tulsa, for example, murder and robbery rates increased 67% and 91% respectively, during the ten-year period. Aggravated assault rates rose 31% in Oklahoma City and 64% in Lawton. “What that tells me is what we’re currently doing is not working well,” said Steele. “If we do nothing, we will need to build an additional 2,500 to 3,000 prison beds over the next 10 years just to maintain the current trend.” This move would cost the state about $170 million.

Legislation Initiates Stiffer Protocol for Oklahoma Offenders

The new bill establishes a mandatory nine months of post-incarceration supervision, allowing probation officials to monitor the activity of all state prison inmates during the period when they are most likely to commit another crime. The legislation also establishes facilities for offenders who violate the terms of their probation, sending them to an alternative facility that will provide intensive treatment for their addiction or mental health issues, instead of them being revoked back to a prison cell. In addition, the measure initiates a grant program though the Attorney General’s Office that will invest up to $40 million over the next decade for local law enforcement to prevent crime. The proposed changes are estimated to reduce the number of prison beds in Oklahoma by more than 2,000 and cut corrections costs by $200 million over the next ten years, $100 million of which will be reinvested in crime-fighting strategies.

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