If criminal justice reform doesn’t occur in the chambers of the State Capital, incarceration rates will inevitably swell in Oklahoma.
In August 2016, Gov. Mary Fallin publicly introduced the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Task Force and charged the Task Force to reform the prison system. Six months later, Fallin released the following statement about the Task Force’s recommendations on Feb. 2, 2017:
“Oklahoma is in a crisis as our current prison population greatly exceeds capacity, and we have the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country, with the highest rate for women. Without change, our prison population will increase by 25 percent, and will require three more prisons to be built or contracted.
“To address this, in August I charged the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force to perform a comprehensive review of Oklahoma’s criminal justice system and develop data-driven recommendations that will increase public safety by reducing recidivism, holding offenders accountable, and controlling the state’s skyrocketing corrections costs.
Fallin’s task force didn’t include any African-Americans, which is alarming considering African-Americans make up 7.6 percent of the state’s population, but minorities make up 46.1 percent of Oklahoma’s prison population (2013.) 53% of people incarcerated in Oklahoma have been convicted of nonviolent crimes. Futhermore, the majority of inmates receiving parole in Oklahoma aren’t minorities, which indicates racial bias in the entire Oklahoma criminal justice system.
If the state were to pass meaningful prison reform, allowing nonviolent offenders to avoid incarceration through new programs, the state would experience a decrease in its incarcerated population, and consequently financial boon for our beleaguered state. Prison reform would be positive for Oklahoma socially and economically. Ethical prisoning practices would relieve the statistic-induced stresses placed on African-American and minority communities.
Oklahoma has the epitome of a badly run state prison system. Nonviolent crimes account for more than half of Oklahoma’s prison population; the state’s incarceration rate rivals nearly all others at 78 percent above the national average, earning Oklahoma the second highest incarceration rate in the U.S; and finally, the state is ranked first in rates of incarceration for women, with twice as many women incarcerated than any other state, earning is the title of Female-incarceration Capital of the United States from The Nation.
Oklahoma has three facilities owned and operated by the nation’s two largest private (for-profit) prison companies. Lawton Correctional Facility is run by the GEO Group, Inc., and Corrections Corporation of America operates both the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, Okla. and the Avalon – Tulsa Transitional Center.
Combined the companies have an annual revenue of $3.3 billion and allocate millions of dollars to their powerful lobbyists who advocate for for-profit prisons at both the state and federal level.
Some state lawmakers are concerned over the potential loss of jobs in rural districts. The prison-industrial complex employs workers in rural areas that may have limited opportunities for employment. Because of this complex, the prison-industrial system is notoriously hard to dismantle because citizens come to depend on it for their livelihoods. 300 Oklahomans work for these private prison companies.
Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, Inc. aren’t just employers in Oklahoma, they are also heavy-handed political players. According to NEWSOK both private prison corporations contributed a collective sum of $35,000 to Fallin’s 2015 campaign, and another $5,000 for her 2015 Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball.
GEO Group, Inc. has given Oklahoma politicians more than $176,000 from 2008-2015.
The advent of Trump’s administration could have meant new reforms to the federally controlled prisons, and could have been an example to states, but the profit prisons don’t limit their lobbying to state politics, and the current administration took a $250,000 donation for the inauguration from GEO Group, Inc.
How can Oklahomans trust Mary Fallin and her “Task Force” to reform a system financially backed by the GEO Group, Inc. and Corrections Corporation of America when the governor and the president both receive money from these entities?
Evidence of this corporate influence on policy-making brings even more questions: Does Fallin or her task force have stock in these companies? Does the governor feel a moral obligation to help all or her constituents, including minorities, who are more likely to be convicted of a crime than their white counterparts?
The Black Wall Street Times will continue updating this story as it develops.