Study shows Oklahoma has high incarceration rate

Monday, March 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma and two of its neighbors make up the top three states with the number of residents incarcerated per capita.

A national study on state and federal inmate populations released on Sunday showed that state inmate populations grew by 1.5 percent during a 12-month period ending June 30. When federal prison populations are included, that number is 2.3 percent _ the lowest annual growth rate since 1971.

But during the same period, Oklahoma's prison population grew 4.5 percent.

Jerry Massie, Department of Corrections spokesman, said Oklahoma's incarceration rate is the same as it was last year.

``Our incarceration rate is one of the highest in the nation,'' Massie said. ``Any change would come to us slowly.''

According to the study, the state has the third-highest incarceration rate in the nation, with 681 people jailed for every 100,000 residents. Louisiana's rate is 793 per 100,000 and Texas' rate is 779 per 100,000.

As of June 30, Oklahoma has the nation's second-largest number of inmates jailed in private prisons at 6,735, the study reported. Twenty-nine percent of Oklahoma inmates are in private-run prisons, the fourth-highest percentage in the country.

In January, those numbers were 6,085 inmates, or 27 percent of the state's total inmate population, state records showed.

Oklahoma's 2,407 female inmates is the ninth-largest total in the country.

Corrections officials are looking at ways to ease crowding at state-run prisons. In last week's Pardon and Parole Board meeting, state Corrections Director James Saffle urged board members to speed the parole process and get more inmates into community sentencing programs.

Too many inmates are jailed needlessly when they could be in treatment and education programs outside prison walls, Saffle said.

``If the numbers go up for community sentencing and parole rates continue to rise, both of those variables could affect our growth in the next year or so,'' Massie said.

The national inmate population is expected to top 2 million by late this year, the report said.

But the economy and other factors could affect the trend.

``There's variables. When the economy does well, we have less crime,'' Massie said.

``When the economy goes down, crime goes up. But there's reasons to be optimistic.''