Drug, alcohol crimes fill prisons, study shows

Friday, May 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Drug and alcohol crimes top the reasons Oklahomans are sent to prison, says a report given to the Legislature Thursday.

During the 2001 fiscal year, 43 percent of offenders were convicted of drug and alcohol crimes, according to the report on sentencing practice compiled by the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Resources Center.

The report showed the Department of Corrections got 6,887 new prisoners the last fiscal year and 1,356, or 19.7 percent, of them were convicted of simple drug possession.

Drug distribution was the next-highest reason for imprisonment, accounting for 943 prisoners or 13.7 percent of prison receptions.

The third-largest group of prisoners were convicted of Driving Under the Influence. They totaled 692, or 10 percent of new inmates.

The report comes as the Department of Corrections is seeking $26 million in supplemental funding for the current fiscal year to pay for housing more inmates.

A $9 million supplemental appropriation for prisons was approved in April.

As prison funding is beefed up, other state agencies are facing cuts averaging about 5 percent to make up for a $350 million budget gap.

During the study period between July 1, 2000, and June 30, 2001, the report showed Oklahoma courts handed down 18,430 felony convictions. Violent crimes made up 2,534, or 13.7 percent, of the convictions, while non-violent crimes totaled 15,896, or 86.3 percent.

Sentences meted out for drug possession ranged from two months to 50 years, while DUI convictions drew sentences ranging from zero to 10 years.

Other report highlights included:

_ 37.1 percent of offenders sentenced to prison had no prior felony offenses of record, while 28.6 percent had more than three prior offenses.

_ 1,058 offenders were convicted of ``deadly sins,'' a new crime designation used for the first time last year under a law passed in 2000 and expanded in 2001. Those crimes, which include robbery, murder and child molestation, require offenders to serve 85 percent of their prison terms.

_ Offenders with no prior convictions received an average sentence length of 46 months for drug possession.

_ The community sentencing program started as a means to divert low level offenders from prison received 896 people in Fiscal Year 2001, or 5 percent of the 18,000 total felons.