Chicken-Fried News: Oklahoma sardines 

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It is not exactly breaking news that Oklahoma and Oklahoma County face overcrowding problems in prisons and jails, but the seriousness of these issues has perhaps never been more apparent.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections recently released information showing the state’s prison population has surpassed 61,000 for the first time in nearly 50 years. This figure, according to a recent KFOR.com report, includes those in prison, on surveillance or in county jail awaiting transfer.

State Corrections director Joe M. Albaugh said the numbers have reached a level “beyond the tipping point” and put overwhelmed staff and the general public at risk.

A report from the state’s Justice Reform Task Force shows that if no action is taken, Oklahoma’s prison population will grow by 25 percent in the next decade, requiring three new state prisons to hold the population.

If these numbers continue to rise, it might be time to change the expression from “packed like sardines” to “packed like Oklahoma prison inmates.”

NewsOK.com reports that the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce criminal justice reform task force sounded a similar alarm in its recent report. Oklahoma City Thunder owner and businessman Clay Bennett heads the committee and said it’s time local leaders take action that goes beyond merely building new prison and jail facilities.

Part of the city task force’s recommendations included funding programs for the treatment of addiction and mental illness, as opposed to further incarceration.

The Oklahoma County jail population has grown from 495 to 2,581 since 1983. The county’s incarceration rate — the number incarcerated per 100,000 county residents — has tripled in that time.

“It’s not even an emergency,” Bennett said during the meeting. “It’s desperation. These are desperate issues, desperate times, and we must engage on these issues and focus on these issues and make progress very quickly.”

Print headline: Oklahoma sardines

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