IN SIMPLE TERMS
This week his column deals with legislation to ease the prison overcrowding problem we have in Oklahoma.
HB 2131 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by Governor Fallin. One of the provisions in HB 2131 reduces the Governor’s role in the parole process and allows the decision/recommendation of the Pardon and Parole Board in matters of non-violent offenders to stand if the governor does not act within 30 days.
However, Attorney General Scott Pruitt has issued an opinion saying it would run afoul of the State Constitution and the Governor and Legislature have deferred to that opinion, but we may see legislation next year to put that on a ballot for the voters to decide.
Other provisions of HB 2131 will go in effect on Nov. 1, 2011. There will be expanded use of electronic monitoring rather than incarceration for non-violent offenders. Unless the judge states otherwise, offenders found guilty on several counts of non-violent crimes will serve a concurrent sentence instead of consecutive sentences.
On Nov. 1 of this year as many as 300 non-violent offenders will be released from Oklahoma institutions under another provision of HB2131. Anyone who has been sentenced to five years or less for a non-violent crime is now eligible for parole after serving only three months behind bars.
More than 60 percent of the prison population in Oklahoma are there for conviction of drug charges. Just a few years ago less than half of the prison population was there for drug charges.
Clearly incarceration is not discouraging those inclined to use, possess, distribute or manufacture drugs and building more prisons has not relieved the over-population problem.
About 10 percent of the prison population in Oklahoma is female. Most are single mothers who leave minor children behind at an additional cost to the taxpayers and many if not most return time and again to prison.
I am a pen pal mentor to a female prison inmate in another state who is serving quite a long sentence, and that is one of the things she writes me about often. This week she wrote “They prefer to lay up and sleep, and watch all manner of TV programs that are of vulgar value and consume a double or triple amount of food supplements that are not healthy.”
I thought “Gosh! It sounds like these women are being rewarded for bad behavior and little incentive for them to try to stay OUT of prison.”
Every year the department of corrections requests additional funding, and I have no doubt it is deserved but when looking for information to write this column today I learned DOC has more administrative personnel than prison guards. That is something that surely needs to be addressed.
I asked Rep. Lockhart and Sen. Allen about it. Rep. Lockhart replied that he will do some digging for an answer to that.
Some would say prison overcrowding makes a good case for legalizing, or decriminalizing drugs, especially marijuana. I have mixed feelings about it. Users have said there is no more harm in using marijuana than in drinking alcohol, and that may be true.
Maybe it should be treated like alcohol. Don’t punish someone for simple possession of an amount for personal use, just as someone would not be punished for having an unopened bottle of whisky or a case of beer.
I have no tolerance for the harder illegal drugs, or for the abuse of prescription drugs. I also believe any leniency given to an offender should be off the table if a plea bargain is involved.
By that I mean if an offender pleas down to a lesser offense, s/he should serve the whole sentence without parole consideration.