In December of 2016, Oklahoma’s prison population hit a record of high of 61,000 people—then it kept growing. Currently, Oklahoma has the second highest imprisonment rate in the nation, at 78% above the national average. Since 1991, Oklahoma has held the record for country’s highest rate of female incarceration. 

 

Since 2011, Oklahoma’s prison population has grown by 9% reaching record highs in December of 2016 and pushing past that record by May of 2017. Oklahoma has the second-highest rate of imprisonment, trailing only Louisiana. Since 1991, Oklahoma has consistently had the highest rate of female incarceration.  The impact of these staggering numbers ripples through Oklahoma’s communities, with 1 in 10 Oklahoma children experiencing parental incarceration at some point in their childhood.

 

Oklahoma’s burgeoning prison population costs taxpayers an annual average of over half a billion dollars.  If the state continues on this path, its prison population is estimated to grow by 25% by 2026, and cost Oklahoma taxpayers at least $1.2 billion in new prison construction and an additional $700 million in operating expenses over the next decade. One-quarter of the overall growth is expected to be driven by a 60% increase in Oklahoma’s female prison population over the next decade.

 

In July of 2016, Governor Mary Fallin created the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force via Executive Order 2016-24 to identify cost-effective solutions to alleviate prison overcrowding and reduce the state’s incarceration rate. Over a six-month period, the Task Force found that: “75% of people admitted to prison in Oklahoma were sentenced for non-violent crimes; over half of individuals sentenced to prison for nonviolent offenses have one or no prior felony convictions, and 80 percent have no history of violent crimes.” Furthermore, the Task Force found that Oklahoma uses the blunt instrument of incarceration instead of alternatives and diversion programs more often than other states. 

 

In November of 2016, the people of Oklahoma approved two important ballot initiatives on criminal justice. 57% of voters approved State Question 780, which reclassified criminal offenses like drug possession and property crimes to misdemeanors, instead of felonies. Question 781 also passed and directed the savings resulting from 780 to community rehabilitation programs.

 

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