September 16, 2011

Expert Outlines Oklahoma’s Prison Issues

Print More

OKLAHOMA CITY – Last year, slightly more than half of the offenders leaving prison did so without supervision on the outside, prosecutors were told Thursday.

Of the 51 percent released without supervision, 40 percent were at a high risk to offend again, said Robert Coombs, a senior policy analyst with the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

The center is working with the state to find ways to more effectively use criminal justice dollars as part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

The initiative is a joint effort by Oklahoma and other states, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to analyze data to determine the effectiveness of public safety and corrections policies.

Coombs gave prosecutors an update on the process that officials hope will lead to legislation next session. The initiative will evaluate criminal justice system data and a working group is expected to develop recommendations to be released in December.

The study will examine programs to determine which ones don’t work, Coombs said. A portion of the savings from those programs will be reinvested into the system, he said.

Oklahoma’s three big challenges are the violent crime rate, offenders released without supervision and prison population growth, he said.

Nationally, the violent crime rate has decreased 15 percent, but Oklahoma’s rate has slightly increased, he said. The increase comes during a time when the state incarceration rate is growing, indicating the state is doing something wrong, Coombs said.

Oklahoma’s murder rate rose 17 percent, while nationally it dropped 9 percent. The state’s robbery rate rose 20 percent, and the nation saw an 8 percent drop, Coombs said.

In the last decade, the prison population has grown by 17 percent and is growing faster than the general population, Coombs said. More offenders are going to prison and staying longer, he said.

Oklahoma has a law requiring a person who commits certain felony offenses to serve 85 percent of a sentence before becoming eligible for release.

“The 85 percent crimes are creating a system where folks are stacking up,” Coombs said.