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Oklahoma State Senate
President Pro Tempore
Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City
State Capitol Room 422
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
(405) 521-5636

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For Immediate Release: March 5, 2009

Senators Say Study Doesn’t Reflect Oklahoma’s Progress

Responding to a study reported Wednesday by the Associated Press, Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee and Senator Anthony Sykes said the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project uses flawed data and is affiliated with an organization that is proven soft on criminals.

“The lead story in today’s Oklahoman cites a study that ranks Oklahoma number two in percentage of population behind bars, with an enormous rate increase over the past 25 years,” said Coffee. “But there are several problems with their statistics.”

Coffee says the Pew study was done in conjunction with the Vera Institute of Justice – a liberal organization known to endorse leniency toward law-breakers.

“A predecessor of Vera brought us Cal Hobson’s notorious sentencing grid – ten DUI’s before you go to jail…release violent offenders – the greatest hits of the ‘can’t we all just get along’ crowd,” said Coffee, “and now they presume to tell Oklahoma that we incarcerate too many of our bad guys.

“Further, the figures they cite cover the past 25 years. What they don’t acknowledge is the great progress we’ve made in the past ten years,” he continued.

“What the Pew Center and Vera don’t want you to know is that since the reforms enacted during the Keating administration, incarceration rates in Oklahoma have dropped, while many other states have increased in that same time period, particularly those that followed Vera’s recommendations.” Coffee said.

Senator Sykes, a former public defender and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary, said “I am committed to ensure that the recent positive indicators within the Department of Corrections continue.

“In the current fiscal year, the inmate population has actually declined in Oklahoma,” he continued. “Recent data proves that Oklahoma’s DOC is now among the most efficient in the nation.”

Coffee noted that while Oklahoma’s incarceration rate has dropped, violent offenders’ rate has increased, which has lowered the cost to victims, potential victims, and society in general.

“James Q. Wilson, one of America’s preeminent social scientists, was quoted in a recent Washington Post, observing that the typical criminal commits from 12 to 16 crimes a year – not counting drug offenses,” Coffee said, “and Wilson points out that sending a higher fraction of convicts to prison resulted in lower rates of crime, and a resulting savings to victims and our society. A high risk of punishment reduces crime, and deterrence works,” said Coffee.

“In addition, Oklahoma is far below the national average in average cost per prisoner per day,” Coffee added. “Oklahoma is being more fiscally responsible than most states when it comes to corrections, while keeping our citizens safer.

“But talk is cheap,” Coffee said. “Facts tend to get in the way of a good story, so let me offer a few facts not mentioned in the Pew report or by those quoted in yesterday’s AP story…”

• Ranking 7th in the nation, Oklahoma is one of 12 states since 2000 whose incarceration rate has dropped. Since 2000, our incarceration rate has declined by nearly 25 inmates per 100,000 residents. The national average is a growth rate of 28 inmates per 100,000 residents.
• Only 5 states' prison population decreased as a percentage more than Oklahoma's (1.5%) between 2006 and 2007. And we are one of only 13 states whose inmate population decreased from 2006 to 2007. (Source Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Prisoners in 2007")
• Oklahoma ranks 41st in the USA in spending per inmate per day. Our costs are 33% below the national average per diem costs for correctional systems.
(Source, MGT Audit)
• In the current fiscal year, the inmate population has actually declined.
• Last year, the inmate population was projected to increase by 1238 and grew by only 219.

“Some of this decrease is due to the recommendations adopted from the MGT Audit requested by the Legislature which has led to better internal efficiency practices of inmate processing and management at DOC,” said Coffee. “What the MGT Audit really highlighted was the fact that inefficient management at DOC not only led to a bloated Department budget but a bloated state prison population.”

“Further, the Legislature has invested heavily in drug courts, which continue to show positive results of diverting drug offenders from prison,” Coffee added. “The current allocation to drug courts is $21 million.”

Coffee also noted the increase in appropriations to the Department of Mental Health and drug courts. Appropriations in FY'05 totaled $155.4 million. The budget increased by $8 million in FY'06 and again in FY'07 for drug court expansion. The FY'09 appropriation is $209.5 million.

“The expansion in drug courts is believed to have led to a reduction in drug offender admissions at DOC and saved the State prison costs,” said Coffee. Considering a drug court offender's annual cost averages about $5k a year vs the $18k a year in a DOC facility, we’re pleased with the results in terms of public safety and fiscal responsibility.

“Finally, it should be pointed out that a DOC official bemoaned the small reduction in the Community Sentencing program’s appropriations last year,” Coffee said. “This has been a bonus to the citizens, however, as the DOC is now doing a better job of management internally, which is leading to a decline in the state incarceration rate.”

Coffee also points out that Oklahoma’s investment in private prisons is a key component in the lower cost of corrections.

For more information contact:
Sen. Coffee's Office: 405-521-5636
Sen. Sykes' Office: 405-521-5569

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