prison overcrowding

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said in a statement last week there are some flaws in an analysis that claims eliminating sentence enhancements for nonviolent crimes would reduce the prison population and save the state up to $186 million in 10 years.

Sentence enhancements are a tool that allows courts to increase the maximum range of punishment for defendants who have prior convictions.

Criminal justice reform activists believe a potential ballot question that calls for an end to rules that extend prison sentences for repeat offenders could reduce the state prison population by more than eight percent over time.

New analysis completed by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, suggests the changes in State Question 805 would save the state up to $186 million over 10 years.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is ordering the Secretary of State’s office to accept and count signatures demanding a felony sentencing reform question be added to the ballot this year.

The Secretary of State’s office said it wouldn’t accept more than 260,000 signatures supporting the ballot initiative because the work would put the office at risk of spreading coronavirus.

State Supreme Court justices decided the office hadn’t proven it couldn’t count the signatures safely.

OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is taking in an unspecified number of prisoners from the Comanche County Detention Center in Lawton. The prison system is trying to separate the county jail’s healthy prisoners from those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Comanche County Detention Center in Lawton now has 102 prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19. Most of the prisoners who tested positive are reportedly asymptomatic.

The situation has gotten so bad the state health department ordered jail administrator William Hobbs not to take in any more prisoners.

"Saturday I got the order," Hobbs said. "A team shows up to assist us in assessing the situation and start cleanup procedures."

The Comanche County Detention Center in Lawton has 18 prisoners and five staff members infected with COVID-19. Now, the state health department is testing all of its jail staff and 345 prisoners.

William Hobbs, the jail administrator, says more cases could be found as the health department ramps up testing.

"They could be negative today and positive two days from now," Hobbs said. "Just because you’re negative (doesn’t) mean you’re clear."

Hobbs says many of the prisoners carrying the disease didn’t show symptoms.

Matthew Ansley / Unsplash

Fewer people are being arrested and sent to jail in the United States, but Oklahoma seems to defy the trend.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

A popular desire for reform led lawmakers to push the release of hundreds of people from Oklahoma prisons in a record commutation last year. The climactic event was born from a series of reforms that have moved Oklahoma away from the number one spot for incarceration. But, that progress might be temporary.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

In 2016, Oklahoma voters passed two state questions intended to reduce the state’s prison population. Every year since, lawmakers have introduced bills designed to help decrease the number of people serving time.

Photo Provided

Twenty-one people were released from state prisons Wednesday after Gov. Mary Fallin commuted their sentences for drug-related crimes.

Fallin reduced the sentences for 20 women and one man to time-served. A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the people were released the same day Fallin signed their commutations.

A criminal justice reform advocacy group helped the people receive rare recommendations for reduced sentences from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board last month. In one recent year, the board made similar recommendations for only 19 of 477 applicants. 

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