Percentage of Oklahoma inmates behind bars one of nation's highest

Wednesday, July 28th 2004, 5:31 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma has one of the nation's highest percentage of people in the correctional system who are behind bars, new statistics show.

The state's percentage of the correctional population incarcerated is 47.9 percent, according to 2003 data released this week by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. The national average is 30.2 percent.

"Historically, we've always had a high incarceration rate," said Jerry Massie, spokesman for the state's Corrections Department, which oversees parolees and probationers. "I think that will probably continue."

The nation's combined federal, state and local adult correctional population reached 6.9 million men and women. The correctional population includes people in prison and jail as well as those on probation and parole.

About 62,100 people make up the correctional population in Oklahoma -- 29,700 incarcerated, 28,326 on probation and 4,047 on parole.

The number of people in Oklahoma's correctional population has slightly increased in the past four to five years, while the number of probationers has fallen and the number of those on parole has risen.

At the end of 2000, there were nearly 31,000 people on probation and about 1,800 on parole.

Parolees rose from 1,825 to 3,406 in 2001. At the time the increase was said to be because of a more effort to act on cases by Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board.

The effort has helped ease some crowding problems, Massie said.

Other states have "cap laws," which force the release of nonviolent offenders when capacity rates are reached. Oklahoma does not, and many of the early release programs the state had in the 1980s and early 1990s were discontinued by legislative acts.

"Often times when we get in a real tight position, if you get a large number of paroles there's kind of a large trickle down effect," Massie said. "It helps us manage the influx of incoming inmates."

Nationally, the number of inmates on parole increased 3.1 percent, while the number on probation grew by 1.2 percent last year.

While there have been no recent studies of the number of those under supervised release in Oklahoma that return to incarceration, Massie said he believes the number is relatively low.

"I think we have traditionally had a lower recidivism rate than the national average," he said.