Changes in prison policy could save Oklahoma $150 million, report says - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Changes in prison policy could save Oklahoma $150 million, report says

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ State government could save up to $150 million by changing policies that send too many of its citizens to prison for too long, a report said Monday.

The report, written by university researchers, comes as state leaders look for ways to reduce a record state budget deficit that is threatening funding for public education and state agencies.

Since the early 1990s, Oklahoma has sent an increasing number of nonviolent offenders to prison, where they serve longer sentences than they do in other states, the report said.

It made several recommendations, including reducing the number of felony crimes, expanding the use of paroles and community sentencing and removing the governor from the pardon and parole process.

Barry Kinsey, professor of sociology at the University of Tulsa, pointed to statistics showing a significant increase in the number of drug and alcohol offenders sent to prison in Oklahoma over the last decade.

The report said Oklahoma law has many felonies that are misdemeanors in other states, and that contributes to the state being ranked third or fourth in the country in the percentage of its citizens that wind up in prison.

It recommended Oklahoma take ``a zero-based budgeting approach'' on felonies, looking for ``compelling public safety reasons to label conduct as felonious.''

Oklahoma sends more females to prison than any other state, with an incarceration rate three times the national average, the report said.

That's mainly because so many women are imprisoned for drug, alcohol and nonviolent offenses, the report said.

The report said Oklahoma is spending an inappropriate amount of money incarcerating nonviolent offenders. It recommended treatment programs for drug offenders and probation for others.

It urged lawmakers to change state laws that produce lengthy sentences for nonviolent offenses such as drug possession and minor theft.

The study was organized by the Oklahoma Alliance for Public Research Inc., a consortium led by former Gov. Henry Bellmon. Work on the project was done by researchers from four universities.

Kinsey was chairman of the group, which also included Kelly Damphousse and Alexander Holmes of the University of Oklahoma, Kent Olson of Oklahoma State University and Art LaFrancois of Oklahoma City University.

Other recommendations included:

_ Bringing sentencing ranges in line with national averages or with those in surrounding states.

_ Limiting probation revocation to instances where a new crime has been committed.

_ Examining a county allocation system limiting the number of offenders each county can send to the Department of Corrections.

_ Reducing the number of ``deadly sins'' in Oklahoma law that require offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences.

_ Restructuring private prison contracts to put emphasis on performance.
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