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Oklahoma Department of Corrections eyes program to release some nonviolent offenders

OKLAHOMA CITY - To address the issue of overcrowded prisons, officials with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections are considering a program that would release select inmates.

The department is developing a program which would allow a select group of nonviolent inmates to leave state prisons and finish their sentences in community supervised programs.

Under the proposal, eligible inmates would have to be within 18 months of release and not have convictions related to violent or sexual crimes.

Dr. Laura Pittman, director of population and programs for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said there are currently more than 26,500 inmates in the state's prison systems.

"We have over 1,600 waiting to come in, so they've been sentenced to state prison but have not been able to receive them, because simply we don't have beds," Pittman said.

Preliminary findings suggest there are about 1,500 inmates who would be eligible for the program; however, Pittman tells NewsChannel 4 she expects 30 to 50 percent of those inmates would be ineligible once vetting is complete.

If an eligible inmate doesn't have valid housing options and does have domestic abuse charges or victim protective orders, then he/she will no longer be considered.

As it stands, Oklahoma ranks second behind Louisiana for highest incarceration rate. The state ranks first for female incarceration rate alone.

NewsChannel 4 reached Governor Mary Fallin's office for a comment on the matter. In the last legislative session, Fallin was an advocate for justice reform.

We were told in a statement: "This is just an example of the difficult situation we find ourselves in as we attempt to manage an increasing inmate population. We need to commit ourselves to addressing policies that can relieve the pressure on the corrections system."

Pittman said, under the current statute, DOC has the authority to implement things like this. The proposal will be ready to present to the Board of Corrections in September.