OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Lawmakers in Texas say their efforts to reduce prison sizes and costs offer lessons for Oklahoma, where corrections officials are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars to build new ones.
Texas built $2 billion in prisons to house 103,000 new inmates between 1989 and 1996, but a state budget crunch and proposals to build even more prisons helped launch bipartisan criminal justice reform measures in 2007. Those have allowed the state to close eight prison facilities in the past seven years and dramatically reduce its incarceration costs.
“There are things you can do that will alleviate the strain on the prison population, that will save the state money, improve outcomes across the board and Republican Party voters or conservative voters are generally in favor of those reforms,” said Doug Smith, a senior policy analyst with the left-leaning Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
Rather than spend more than $500 million on new prisons, Texas spent half that on treatment and diversion programs. Thousands of beds were created in treatment facilities, where inmates could be sent as an alternative to prisons, The Oklahoman reported.
Oklahoma has attempted to follow the lead of the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature. In 2012, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Mary Fallin, signed into law a justice reinvestment bill, but adequate funding for rehabilitation programs never arrived from the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Adam Luck, a member of the Oklahoma Board of Corrections and Fallin’s former adviser on criminal justice, said prison overcrowding in Oklahoma is worse than Texas’ was in 2007 but there is little political momentum for Texas-like reforms.