Public safety should be the first priority in government—failing to meet that responsibility can literally mean the difference between life and death. That’s why it is important to find effective means for keeping violent offenders off the streets, and common-sense approaches to dealing with non-violent offenders that still hold them accountable for their crimes.
Back in the 1990’s, one of the things crime victims, their families, and other law-abiding citizens found most frustrating was the fact that a person could be convicted of a serious crime and only spend a fraction of their actual prison sentence behind bars. Often, those same convicted felons would be out only a short time before they had claimed more victims and again found themselves in prison. It was a revolving door. We changed that in 1999, by passing a minimum sentencing law for specific crimes, which meant those criminals must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before they can even be considered for parole.
In the years that followed, we also have pumped resources into alternative programs like drug courts, community sentencing, and most recently, mental health courts. These systems give us an alternative way of dealing with nonviolent offenders, ensuring we can devote our prison beds to those individuals who are the greatest threat to our communities.
This past week, the Pew Center released a new study criticizing the size of Oklahoma ’s prison population. The report was done in conjunction with the Vera Institute of Justice, which is a liberal organization known for endorsing leniency toward criminals. In my opinion, this report is neither factually up-to-date nor objective.
The truth is, that since adopting many reforms during the administration of former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, incarceration rates in Oklahoma have actually dropped, while many other states have increased in that same time period. Furthermore, recent data proves Oklahoma ’s Department of Corrections is now among the most efficient in the nation.
Oklahoma is one of only 12 states whose incarceration rate has dropped since 2000, declining by nearly 25 inmates per 100,000 residents. The national average is a growth rate of 28 inmates per 100,000 residents. In addition, Oklahoma ranks 41st in the country in the daily cost of housing an inmate. Our costs are 33 percent before the national daily rate.
Being tough on violent offenders—murderers, rapists and child molesters—is nothing we should apologize for, and I believe most Oklahomans would agree.