During the past twelve months (April 2011 – March 2012) we notice very little change in the Oklahoma prison population. On average there are 24,252 in the system each month. Part of the reason for little change in population may be due to the fact that Oklahoma DOC reports that the system has been at an average 97% capacity over the same time period.
In 2008 Oklahoma's prison system reached a record-breaking 98.6% of capacity as well. Four years later little has changed. In March 2012 it was at 98.1%. The maximum security prison population was at 90.4% while the medium security was at an amazing 99.6% capacity in March.
According to BJS in 2009, the most recent data available, 53% of state prison inmates were serving time for violent offenses, 19% for property, 18% for drug, and 9% for public order or other offenses.
Early Release Law
Remember that last year the last year HB 2131 went into effect. It has not been easy to find exact numbers released as a result of the change in the law. It was original estimated to be a few hundred people.
"The numbers we initially thought were going to be out haven't really materialized," said parole officer Jeff McLaughlin.
"There's a risk they are going to violates rules," said McLaughlin. "There's a risk they are going to violate the law again. I think this is a calculated risk, I think over all our statistics prove it’s successful."
The DOC stated that as a result of the legislative change to the Community Sentencing Statute in November no offender(s) have been released from a prison as a direct outcome of the change.
The community sentencing program is designed to diverted offenders from entering the prison system and not a reentry program.
Oklahoma’s Recidivism Rate was at 22.8% in March 2012. This is the number of people that return to prison within 3 years after release. In January of 2011 the rate was 23.3% so we have seen a slight improvement in the number.
Oklahoma continues to have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country. According to a Pew Research study, between 2004 and 2007 the national recidivism rate was 43.3% while Oklahoma’s (at that time) was the 3rd lowest at 26.4%.
If a state incarcerates a large proportion of lower-risk offenders, then its recidivism rate might be comparatively low, because such offenders would be, by definition, less of a risk to return to prison. A state with a larger percentage of serious offenders behind bars, on the other hand, might experience higher rates of re-incarceration when those offenders return to the community.
Oklahoma exemplifies the example: “A lot of people who might be put on probation or diverted into an alternative program in another state wind up going to prison in Oklahoma,” notes Michael Connelly, administrator of evaluation and analysis in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. “These lower level folks aren’t as likely to recidivate, so it benefits our overall numbers and makes us look like we’re doing an even better job than we’re doing.”
The majority of the people re-incarcerated in Oklahoma, 58%, were due to technical violations of parole or probation rather than committing another crime. The national rate for return to prison for technical violations was about 49% of those returning to prison.
Our neighbors in Arkansas reported 0% due to technical violations as they have implemented two distinct programs as alternatives to traditional incarceration for adult offenders who fail to comply with the terms of parole supervision. However the number of people returning to prison for new crimes nearly tripled over the same period.
Corrections Reform Bill
We reported last month that House Bill 3052 proposes sweeping reforms to Oklahoma's Criminal Justice system. The bill is the work of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and addresses supervision for felony offenders released from prison, provides for grants to local law enforcement, requires mental health and substance abuse assessments for those arrested of a felony offense and outlines intermediate sanctions for those committing technical parole and probation violations, among other things.
HB3052 is expected to control the increase in prison growth by increasing substance abuse treatment, reducing violent crime, strengthening supervision, and reducing recidivism. Prison costs will be reduced over time as these reforms are implemented. The utilization of intermediate revocation facilities will provide significant cost savings, which will offset the additional costs associated with treatment, screening, and supervision.
Oklahoma’s prison spending has leapt 30 percent in a decade, while crime rates have not declined. In March 2012 annual cost for a medium security inmate was estimated at $14,228 while annual cost for Pardon and Parole were at $996. That is $13,282 less to parole a medium security inmate than house them. For a minimum security inmate the savings for parole is $12,590 annually. Granted, not all of these folks would be welcomed back on the street immediately. The bill is a plan to reinvest savings from more inmates paroled in alternatives to incarceration.
Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman today issued the following statement regarding the passage of House Bill 3052. The measure was developed through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, and is intended to reduce crime while controlling the growth of the state’s prison population.
The plan envisions spending perhaps $110 million on various programs instead of on several thousand new prison beds. Kris Steele said the state can “bend the curve” of increased costs – seeing roughly a 2 percent growth in prison population with reform, versus a 9 percent jump without it. And without reform or new beds the state cannot handle the influx of a 9% growth. Actually, even a 2% prison population growth may be beyond current capacity.