Why are state’s prisons so full?

More people are imprisoned in Oklahoma than in all of Hong Kong, or Austria

In a recent United Nations survey, 39 of 50 participating countries reported prison populations of less than 25,000. In Oklahoma, which has the third-highest incarceration rate in the nation, about 26,000 are in prison.

“We have ridiculous sentence lengths for crimes,” said Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz. “Instead of having moderate ranges that protect society and do what justice would require, we have ranges that allow everybody to get mad.”


In Oklahoma

•There are more than 60,000 people in Oklahoma’s correctional system, including about 28,000 on probation and nearly 5,000 on parole.

•While there are 644 white inmates per 100,000 population, there are 2,980 black inmates per 100,000 population, according to the Oklahoma Sentencing Commission.

•Accounting for 7 percent of the state’s population, blacks made up nearly 30 percent of the prison population.

•About 12 percent of all black males in Oklahoma from ages 25 to 29 were in prison or jail in 2006.



•The United States imprisons more people than any other industrialized country.

•The prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million, according to the Pew Research Center.

•One in every 99.1 adults is behind bars. For some groups, the numbers are higher.

•One in 36 adult Hispanic men is behind bars while one in 15 adult black men is behind bars.

•One in nine black men aged 20 to 34 are behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006.


Are we too harsh?

“When we make these people felons, even the ones that do great on probation, when they come out, they are still convicted felons. It makes getting a job and doing well infinitely harder. Is it impossible? No. Is it impossible for some? Yes,” Ravitz said. “We put people in the system that a lot of states don’t put in the system in the felony category.”

In Oklahoma prisons, about 83 percent are there for nonviolent crimes — including about 10 percent on fraud and 10 percent on driving under the influence charges. Sentencing guidelines provide prosecutors with nearly unparalleled discretion — the range for a first-time possession of crack/cocaine is two to 10 years and first-time conviction for possession with intent to distribute is five years to life.

In 2004, the Oklahoma Sentencing Commission concluded many of these issues have likely contributed to the growing prison population and the growing disparity within that population. They made numerous recommendations. So far, none have been adopted, Ravitz said.

“It’s unfortunate but a lot of African Americans offend at higher rates than whites. That doesn’t mean the justice system is racially discriminatory,” said David Muhlhausen, senior policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy think tank. “Disparities exist because there are disparities in offending rates. If you want to really get to the disparity issue then some groups should look at offending less than others.”

Muhlhausen agreed some states may rely too heavily on incarceration, and that the lack of minority district attorneys could pose problems.

He also advocated for uniformity in the drug sentencing codes, but he was critical of creating victims out of criminals.

“Unfortunately, many youth do not understand that dealing drugs is not a career. … It’s a cycle,” he said.

“But somehow saying that they are a victim because the criminal justice system is treating them badly simply does not hold.”


Biases in the system?

On the other side of the equation is University of Oklahoma Law Professor Cheryl Wattley.

“Imagine a teenager is stopped in a car on a joyride after stealing grandma’s car keys. If the kid is white, they might be told to the take the car home and give grandma back her keys. If the teenager is black, they will likely be booked for grand theft auto,” Wattley said.

“At every phase of the criminal justice system, you have judgment-based decisions, and when they are made cross culturally, those decisions tend to be harsher. … It’s not even a conscious consideration when they are making the decision, but it’s an insidious component in how we exercise judgment.”

“I absolutely believe there are biases within the criminal justice system,” she added.

Oklahoma Appellate Court Judge David Lewis is one of only a few black male judges. There are no black male district attorneys in the state. Black offenders are over-represented in nearly every level of the criminal justice system, with the exception of probation.

There they account for about 18 percent compared with white offenders at more than 60 percent.

“The numbers speak for themselves. But you can’t just look at the incarceration numbers. You must look at arrests. You must look at who gets charged for what crimes. You must look at sentences. You must look at probation. You must look at whether or not it’s a first offense,” Lewis said.

Some people would look at these numbers and say ‘obviously there is racism in the system,’ others would say ‘all this means is that black people are committing more crimes.’

“The dialogue and the debate, I think, needs to be somewhere in the middle,” he added

source: http://newsok.com/why-are-states-prisons-so-full/article/3248660


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