The ever-increasing expenditures at the Department of Corrections (DOC) continue to impact state budget woes. Newly released numbers show that 33% more women were sent to prison in Oklahoma County this year than in 2015.
Oklahoma continues to lead the nation in incarceration rates for women. Gov. Mary Fallin just created a Justice Reform Task Force to address the state laws leading to imprisonment, but community leaders say the underlying causes run much deeper.
Oklahoma Watch reports a 9.5% overall increase for female prisoners in the state over 2015, with a 33% increase in Oklahoma County. The DOC confirms 381 women in the metro were sent to prison this year.
Rep. George Young (D-District 99) said, “It seems like, in most folk’s eyes that’s going backwards, but I see some of the things we’re doing and I know those things will have an impact."
Lawmakers like Young and the community members in the Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform group are working on reforms to non-violent drug crime categorization and sentencing as well as funding more mental health programs statewide.
The local YWCA sees the impact from a lack of mental health services, caring for women who end up committing crimes after they have experienced domestic violence.
“It’s like everything we know. Medical, we always talk about prevention, prevention, prevention. If we begin to address these crimes and put the dollars there, then that will stem the tide into mental health. It will stem the tide into substance abuse, and subsequently stem the tide into incarceration,” said YWCA CEO Jan Peery.
As more women wind up behind bars, more children inevitably enter the system as well, adding again to the overall cost of state services, and creating a generational cycle of struggle.
“Maybe there’s other alternatives that would have been better for the person who committed the crime and generationally for those children and their exposure,” Peery suggested. “A lot of times people think well, it doesn’t impact me. Bottom line, it is because it’s impacting our dollars at the state.”
Tulsa has actually sent fewer women to prison this year than last, which many credit to a diversion program for mothers. Locally the ReMerge program is getting up and running, but Young believes it will take more money and time to serve more women in need.