Friday, April 16, 2010

'Absolutely irresponsible': Okies boosting criminal penalties but can't house inmates they've got

Oklahoma prison officials are calling out their Legislature for continuing to boost criminal penalties at a time when prisons are jam-packed and understaffed. Reports Tulsa World ("State corrections officer staffing historically low," April 16):
Board [of Corrections] member Robert Rainey said the board's suggestions on ways to save money have not been accepted by lawmakers.

He said lawmakers continue to increase prison sentences and criminalize activities at a time when the agency is taking cuts. That, he said, is "absolutely irresponsible."

Rainey said lawmakers were invited to attend the meeting, but only one — Republican Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City — attended.

The department has added about 700 new offenders since last April, Jones said. ...

"We have no beds," he said. ...

Board member David Henneke called the inmate population "beyond critical."
This story is notable for a couple of reasons. First, add the Okies to the list of states struggling to pay high incarceration costs in a budget crunch. Second, it's hard for legislators to stop themselves from boosting criminal penalties, even when there's no money to pay for them.

We've yet to come to grip with this dilemma in Texas. Despite an array of laudable, nationally recognized criminal justice reforms approved in the last several sessions, Texas has continued boosting criminal penalties and increasing sentence lengths, even as the the Legislature spent hundreds of millions on diversion programs. Texas added 59 new felonies during the last legislative session, bringing the total to 2,383.

In Texas, part of that cognitive dissonance can be explained by the fact that the legislation went through different House committees (reforms in Corrections, penalty hikes in Criminal Jurisprudence). Even more importantly, the Legislative Budget Board assigns no "fiscal note" (bureaucratese for "cost") to criminal penalty hikes for budget purposes, so legislators can pass them without directly funding the extra expense. I don't know enough about Oklahoma's legislature to know how they budget criminal penalty hikes, but in general legislators everywhere seem to be in love with these so-called"enhancement" bills and behave as though money is no object.


Ketchup Vegetable said...

The best way to lower the population of prison is to make the experience more unpleasant.

Military prison has a low population because they force the prisoners to spend their days busting big rocks into smaller rocks.

Anonymous said...

They keep returning because of their criminal mindset and values. Their mindset and values are the norm in the communities they return to so they feel at home and they infect younger members of the communities.

Hook Em Horns said...

2,282 felonies! At this rate, EVERYONE IN TEXAS will be a felon. We can house ourselves in the 112 prisons we the people built. I swear, if anyone in power in this state had a damn brain...oh well.

Charlie O said...

Considering some of the recent legislation proposed in Oklahoma, I can only say, "you can't fix stupid."