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DOC officials turn to community program amid prison overcrowding crisis

OKLAHOMA CITY – After the number of people behind bars in Oklahoma reached another record, officials say they are working to place nonviolent offenders in a Community Supervision Program to serve out the remainder of their sentences.

All of the state’s correctional centers have seen a major increase in inmates over the past few years, and officials say they are running out of room.

“In July 2014, the agency increased Crabtree’s temporary bed population by 124 , and then again in January ’15, increased our temporary population to 134,” said Warden Jason Bryant.

While asking for more money from lawmakers, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh says the agency has received more inmates.

“The Department of Corrections, to a certain extent, is the Titanic. It’s already hit the iceberg,” Allbaugh told KFOR in June.

In August, a group of inmates filed a lawsuit against Gov. Fallin in federal court over unsafe conditions in Oklahoma prisons. Days later, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced that it set another population record with 63,009 people in the system. Officials say this is the third significant population development within the agency in less than a year.

Now, agency officials say they plan to implement a Community Supervision Program to help relieve prison overcrowding.

Officials say the program will focus on nonviolent inmates who are within 18-months of completing their sentence. Those inmates will be admitted to a strict program that will be supervised by parole board officials and will include GPS monitoring for six months.

“We have been forced to make this decision because our prisons are overpopulated, and no legislation has made the necessary changes to Oklahoma’s justice system,” said Allbaugh. “We need our most basic state government functions funded. Until that happens, ODOC has to find other ways allowed under statute to manage this dire situation.”

Ineligible inmates are those who have the following:

  • Consecutive sentences
  • 85% sentences
  • Violent crimes
  • Sex or domestic violent offenders
  • Drug-trafficking convictions
  • Participants in delayed sentencing program
  • Inmates sentenced for placement or intermediate revocation facility
  • Participants currently in the electronic monitoring program
  • Inmates with suspended sentences upon successful completion of a program
  • Cases pending judicial review
  • Pending felony cases
  • Active protective orders.

“CSP is a step in the right direction with a common-sense approach to getting inmates who don’t belong in prison out of our facilities,” Allbaugh said. “It’s a drop in the bucket. We will continue to act in the best interests of public safety, our staff and offenders while ensuring efficient use of public resources.”

While agency officials say it is a necessary step, an Oklahoma lawmaker is speaking out against the move.

Rep. Scott Biggs says the proposal will release 1,445 inmates, some of whom he says should not be eligible for a community supervision program.

 “The executive branch has now moved past playing political games and on to actually endangering the public. If we want to get nonviolent people out of prison and into a program that will help rehabilitate them, I am all for it, but this proposal does the opposite.

 Sixteen of the inmates being recommended for release using the governor’s metrics have been convicted of assault and battery of a police officer, 17 more for assault and battery, 6 for accessory to murder, three have been convicted of stalking, two were convicted of cruelty to animals and one endangered human life while committing arson.

 Contrary to what the governor and her supporters may think, I care very deeply about Oklahoma’s criminal justice system. I care so much that I have devoted my professional life to it. This proposal highlights exactly why I fought the governor’s most recent attempts at criminal justice reform.

 I ask that the governor tell the department of corrections what her staff has already admitted to me in meetings – their definition of violent and nonviolent crimes needs correcting. The governor has written letters and spoken at conferences about her desire to keep violent offenders in prison. To do this, she must instruct DOC to abandon this reckless proposal.”

However, the Department of Corrections says Biggs’ concerns are not warranted.

“The 1,445 inmate number quoted by Rep. Scott Biggs is an initial snapshot by ODOC of inmates who could be eligible. We estimate approximately half of those would be admitted following a more thorough review of each individual inmate’s criminal history, behavior and readiness for release.  Remember, these inmates are already projected to complete their sentences and release within 18 months,” a news release from the Department of Corrections read.

“In developing the program candidate criteria, ODOC used the state’s definition of violent crime. This definition came from a 2015 state law, SB 412, which Rep. Biggs co-authored,” it added.

Michael McNutt, the communications director for Gov. Fallin’s office, released the following statement:

“The governor’s staff met with the Department of Corrections and expressed their concerns about the proposal. The governor’s office certainly did not endorse the plan, but recognizes it to be a reaction to the challenges DOC faces in regard to managing the growing inmate population, which is at 109 percent capacity, and the lack of sufficient funding.”

The program begins on Oct. 1.