Oklahoma sees prison admissions rise despite reform efforts
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma prison admissions are rising despite efforts to slow the state’s incarceration rate, which is the highest in the U.S., according to a new report.
The report found that Department of Corrections admissions increased by 1,100 in the first year since State Question 780 took effect. Voters approved downgrading offenses including simple drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors.
The state saw admissions increase by 11 percent overall, including a 21 percent statewide increase for women, the report found.
“Prosecutors wield tremendous power, and they are wielding it to send more people to prison than ever before,” said OCJR Executive Director Kris Steele.
Prosecutions from Tulsa County are among those driving the increase, the report said.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said his office will examine the data to find a reason for the county’s 9 percent increase.
“We will be looking at specific cases as we evaluate this report,” he said, noting that one area of focus will be on the increase in women sent to prison.
Some of the increases can be attributed to cases that began before the state question took effect but were completed during the report’s yearlong study period, Kunzweiler said. About 10 percent of the cases could also be attributed to people being sent to prison for violating terms of alternative sentencing, such as probation.
Kunzweiler said an increase in the state’s homicide rate caused law enforcement to focus on “high crime areas where drug distribution, gang activity, and firearms use were prevalent.”
Oklahoma County saw admissions drop by 9 percent. Eight other districts reported small decreases or remained unchanged.
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com