Sunday, February 5, 2017
By Roy H. Williams and Mike S. Neal
As business leaders, we have a stake in ensuring that our communities are safe and that our tax dollars are spent in ways that strengthen our workforce and keep our families whole. As members of the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force, we believe any reforms to our criminal justice system should be fiscally sound, data-driven, and keep Oklahomans safe, and that's why we support the recommendations advanced Thursday.
During the course of the past seven months the task force, made up of a diverse group of criminal justice stakeholders, analyzed the state's corrections data and the research on improving public safety. Chief among our findings was that three-quarters of the people sent to prison are sentenced for nonviolent crimes, with more than half sentenced for lower-level drug crimes and property crimes. Oklahoma's female prison population is even more disproportionately nonviolent, with drug offenders alone making up 42 percent of those sentenced to prison.
Most alarming, we learned that if our criminal justice system continues with “business as usual,” the state's prison population is projected to grow 25 percent in the next 10 years — to more than 35,700 beds at a cost of $1.9 billion to taxpayers. In any other industry, you would not be in business long with such massive and growing expenses, and you certainly would not stay the course. It is unacceptable that Oklahoma has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country and the highest for women. It is unacceptable that, while more than 30 states have reduced their prison populations and their crime rates, Oklahoma's prison population continues to grow. We can't keep throwing good money after bad. Instead, we have to invest our tax dollars in public safety programs that are most likely to ensure these offenders become productive, law-abiding citizens.
Keep up with the Chamber's criminal justice task force and news at smartsafeokco.com.