WASHINGTON, DC – New data released today shows that, without additional reform, Oklahoma’s prison population will grow by an additional 14 percent in the next ten years. According to research by FWD.us, Oklahoma is projected to have 31,000 people in prison by 2028, solidifying its position as the highest incarcerating state in the nation.
In the last few years, Oklahoma has implemented a number of measures aimed at safely reducing the state’s prison population, including State Question 780 which reclassified drug possession as a misdemeanor. Earlier this year, the legislature passed and Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a portion of the reforms heralded by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force. However, research demonstrates that these measures will not be enough to turn the tide for the state’s ballooning prison population.
“Oklahoma has made significant strides in reforming its criminal justice system in recent years. But the job here is far from done,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte. “With the 2019 legislative session fast approaching, this data is a call to action for state legislators. The package of reforms being developed by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform is a good place to start.”
Much of this growth is due to increases in the number of people being sent to prison each year — instead of a community-based alternative like probation or drug court. The number of people entering prison rose 11 percent in 2018, with more than 10,000 people admitted to prison. That staggering statistic represents the highest single-year total in state history .
While this growth in Oklahoma’s prison population has negative effects on the entire state, women have been particularly damaged by the system. In the last year alone, the number of women sentenced to prison jumped by 21 percent, more than doubling the overall growth rate. Despite State Question 780 being in effect, 472 women entered prison for simple possession in 2018 — the highest number ever.
These findings come at a critical time for state policymakers who will be returning to the capitol in a few months. To safely stem Oklahoma’s projected prison growth, the bipartisan coalition Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, is endorsing policies to expand upon the critical work of the Task Force, reduce the number of women behind bars, and fulfill the goal of State Question 780. Many of these policies are supported by wide majorities of Oklahomans.
View the full findings here.