Oklahoma's prison population falls, but system still crowded
January 30, 2020
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma's state prison population has dropped below 25,000 for the first time in more than a decade, but the system is still overcrowded.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections' weekly population count for Jan. 21 was 24,992, Tulsa World reported. The Bureau of Justice Statistics year-end data shows that the state's prison population hadn't been below 25,000 since 2009.
Adam Luck, a member of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, credited positive changes to significant justice reform measures. But, he said the state would benefit from engaging in a tough conversation about prison population goals.
"It's often overlooked, but there's a deeper conversation we need to have — how over capacity we are even including all of the bunk beds we've added," Luck said.
The system is at 101% capacity, with state institutions at 109% and contracted private prisons at 93%, according to corrections department data.
Ryan Gentzler, director of Open Justice Oklahoma, applauded Luck and the board's work for implementing policy reforms to get prisoners released sooner so they can spend more time under supervision in the community.
Open Justice Oklahoma is an independent group that strives to improve understanding of the state's justice system through analysis of public data, according to its website.
Gentzler said the citizen petition effort underway to end sentence enhancements is another priority. Sentence enhancements make it much more likely that those who have been convicted of non-violent offenses will be sent to prison and serve longer sentences, he said.
"We know that some areas of our communities are more heavily policed and have more of a chance of being involved in the justice system, so those sentence enhancements really have a disparate effect on our prison population," Gentzler said.
Oklahoma would have to drop about 1,400 incarcerated people for its prisons to be considered at capacity, which still includes 2,065 temporary beds scattered across the system.
The corrections department is hopeful that signs of improvement regarding the overcrowding issue become the state's new reality, said agency spokesman Matt Elliott.
"This is an exciting time for ODOC as our agency is receiving the resources, leadership, and support needed to improve operations, strengthen public safety, and help former inmates become productive members of society," Elliott said.