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Report Shows Uptick in Oklahoma’s Prison Population

Oklahoma’s prison population is growing after years of steady decline, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report released Thursday.

On Dec. 31, 2022, Oklahoma incarcerated 22,745 people, a 2.3% increase from 22,235 in December 2021. Oklahoma had the nation’s fourth-highest incarceration rate at the end of last year, trailing Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. Oklahoma was one of four states where more than 1% of male residents were serving a prison sentence of one year or longer.

State prison admissions increased 6% during the survey period, from 5,799 in 2021 to 6,145 in 2022. Conditional supervision violations, parolees sent back to prison for breaking the terms of their early release, rose 14.2%.

The rise in admissions reflects a justice system recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. In late March 2020, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered courthouses statewide to close. Most counties did not resume jury trials until the late summer.

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia saw their prison populations rise between 2021 and 2022, according to the report.

The voter-approved passage of State Question 780, which reclassified some drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, helped Oklahoma reduce its prison population by nearly 20% from 2018 to 2020. Lawmakers made the state question retroactive in 2019, prompting the early release of 462 prisoners in the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history.

While lawmakers have taken up some criminal justice reform bills in recent sessions, including a measure that will expedite the criminal record expungement progress, efforts to overhaul Oklahoma’s criminal sentencing code have stalled. House Bill 1792, which aims to organize 1,100 felonies while reducing or maintaining the state prison population, is eligible to be considered again when the Legislature reconvenes in February.

State corrections officials reported an inmate population of 23,007 on Nov. 27, including 1,029 prisoners awaiting transport from county jails to Department of Corrections facilities.

Source: Public Radio Tulsa