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Oklahoma Invests in New Law to Reduce Violent Crime and Incarceration Rates

Five years ago, Texas adopted the same Justice Reinvestment strategy that the Oklahoma Legislature passed into law this season. Last week, Texas announced an 8.3% reduction in its violent crime rate for 2011, and a 1.45% decline in its incarceration rate as well. The Oklahoma initiative, which cost the state $3.67 million this fiscal year, …

Five years ago, Texas adopted the same Justice Reinvestment strategy that the Oklahoma Legislature passed into law this season. Last week, Texas announced an 8.3% reduction in its violent crime rate for 2011, and a 1.45% decline in its incarceration rate as well. The Oklahoma initiative, which cost the state $3.67 million this fiscal year, makes sense from economic, public policy and public safety standpoints, but House Bill 3052 calls for at least two more years of investment before Oklahoma will begin to see measurable drops in prison costs and crime. With a 30% increase in prison appropriations over the past ten years, putting Oklahoma at number four in overall incarceration per capita, and a violent crime rate that remains unchanged, it seems like the state has nowhere to go but up.

Oklahoma’s Outrageous Prison Costs and Incarceration Rates

Texas’ criminal justice success story stands in stark contrast to states like Illinois, which has continually failed to recognize the ineffectiveness of its criminal justice policies. Illinois is on the verge of reaching 146% of prison capacity, with a prison population of close to 50,000 inmates, while the state’s robbery rate has only decreased 1.7% and its murder rate 0.5% since 2005. Similarly, Oklahoma prisons are at 98% capacity and are running out of room to hold the most serious of offenders, like those charged with murder and rape. In the meantime, the state continues to incarcerate far less serious offenders, a move that costs up to $25,000 per inmate, per year. This figure is equivalent to sending one student to a public university for a year, including room and board.

Oklahoma Makes Big Changes in Corrections and Public Safety

Over the course of the next two years, Oklahoma will invest $6 million to $7 million per year into the new criminal justice initiative. By the fourth or fifth year, the new law should begin to reduce the rate of prison growth, improve public safety and offer better outcomes for inmates. The measure represents a significant turning point in how the state of Oklahoma handles corrections and public safety. In the past, the state’s solution to crime has been to incarcerate low-risk offenders along with more hardened criminals – a risky policy and a poor situation to be in for those people whose lives might be turned around with alternative options. And with more attention to public safety needs and crime prevention, Oklahoma is set to become the national success story Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele predicts.

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