A new report from the group fwd.us highlights five years of Republican-led, voter-supported criminal justice reform efforts in Oklahoma, concluding that policies have safely reduced the prison population while making the justice system fairer and less expensive to taxpayers. The report includes research from never-before-released analyses of local and state data, as well as the personal stories of people affected by the criminal justice system. Over the last five years, Republican governors and legislators and strong majorities of voters have enacted policies that together have reduced the state’s prison population by 21 percent. This change was driven by reductions in admissions for drug possession, low-level property offenses, and supervision revocations. The number of felony charges has fallen by one-third, Still, Oklahoma has the nation's third highest imprisonment rate and the second-highest women's imprisonment rate.
Compared with to other states, Oklahoma prisoners spend nearly twice as long behind bars for property crimes such as larceny and fraud, and more than twice as long for drug sale or trafficking convictions — 35 months in Oklahoma compared to an average of 17 months in other states. Fwd.us says Oklahoma’s justice system has reduced the state's economic growth by removing people from the workforce, subjecting them to harsh sentences, and then imposing significant barriers to their return to work. Oklahoma spends $552 million on the prison system each year without any real public safety benefits, the report contends. Still, the group's Jasmine Sankofa said, "Oklahomans should be proud of the meaningful progress the state has made." From 1978 to 2016, Oklahoma’s prison population grew 615 percent, from slightly over 4,000 people to almost 30,000. This explosive growth was due to a massive increase in felony filings even as crime declined.