When is enough enough? Oklahoma has the third-largest population of prisoners in the nation. When broken down to dollars and cents, the numbers are downright scary.
Oklahoma has become a victim of the “perpetual incarceration machine.” Convicted defendants go to prison, do their time, get out, spend a few months or years free, and then return. Nearly 50 percent of new admissions are people who have previously served time; In effect, the same individuals are being “recycled” again and again.
Due to budget shortfalls and pay raises, the criminal justice system has cut nearly all rehabilitation programs, causing the Oklahoma prison recidivism to grow even higher.
The sad part is that the criminal justice machinery depends upon a growing inmate population to guarantee continued funding and employment for correctional facilities and their staff. The more arrests, convictions and inmates without proper rehabilitation, the more job security for people employed by the system.
Meanwhile, state officials are shifting funds from education, rainy-day funds and highway to pay for the operations of the penal facilities. This means that many crucial areas of the state are not being properly addressed, and forcing communities to raise property taxes to pay for the cost of incarcerating more prisoners. The rule of thumb is that it costs $20,000 per year to keep one man or woman behind bars. Welcome to the perpetual incarceration machine.
The approach to the penal system is broken. Until taxpayers and legislators realize more money is needed to reduce recidivism through rehabilitation programs, reintegration programs and job training, the system will continue to produce repeat offenders at an unacceptable rate.
Markie K. Garner