Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Number of women in prison on the rise in Okla., which leads nation in female incarceration

A study released last month by the Vera Institute found that a rising number of women in rural areas are in prison, often for non-violent offenses.

Oklahoma had the nation's highest female incarceration rate in 2014, at 142 per every 100,000 residents, says a 2015 study by The Sentencing Project. The national average is 58 per every 100,000 residents. (Sentencing Project graphic: Female incarceration rate by state in 2014)

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections released a report this week that for fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30, the number of women incarcerated in the state rose 9.5 percent, Clifton Adcock reports for Oklahoma Watch. The number of women sent to jail in Oklahoma rose from 1,593 to 1,744. During the same time number of men sent to prison dropped 1 percent, to 8,282.

Excluding Tulsa County and Oklahoma County, which are largely urban, "all other counties combined sent 10 percent more women to prisons," Adcock writes. State prisons are now at 107 percent capacity, despite measures approved earlier this year by the state legislature "to reduce incarceration rates. The bills, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, lowered penalties for felony drug possession, increased the threshold for property crimes to be considered a felony and expanded specialty diversion courts."

"Voters will weigh in on similar proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot," Adcock writes. "State Question 780 would reclassify some basic drug possession and property crimes as misdemeanors, and if that generates savings by reducing the number of people incarcerated, State Question 781 would direct the money to county treatment and rehabilitation programs."

Supporters say a lack of prevention services leads to more incarceration, which leads to a cycle of incarceration for those women who are mothers, Adcock writes. Critics "say the changes would relax penalties too much for possession of serious drugs such as cocaine and meth."

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