Oklahoma Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss Prison Reform
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Republican and Democratic candidates for governor have different ideas about dealing with the state's expanding prison population.
A forum hosted by The Oklahoman outlined both Democrat Drew Edmondson’s ideas on reform as well as Republican Kevin Stitt's. Both men agreed that something has be done.
According to a report from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), Oklahoma saved more than $60 million over the past year by ending prison terms for simple drug possession and low-level crimes when voters approved State Questions 780 and 781.
(Editor's Note: The Department of Corrections disagrees with the findings of the OMES report and noted such in a letter sent to Gov. Mary Fallin on August 3. You can read that report below.)
But even with the reforms, prison officials requested $800 million to build two more prisons.
Democrat Drew Edmondson wants prisoners who are serving time for non-violent offenses prior to the changes to be freed.
"You take people who are serving time for something that's no longer a felony, particularly a simple possession of drugs, and ask the pardon and parole board to send the governor those names and start getting them out of prison," said Edmondson.
The problem is that State Question 788 cannot be applied retroactively.
“"I don't know. I'd have to think through. It's not applied retroactively and there's no way to make it apply retroactively unless you pass a statute saying so. But I would at least take the course that I'm planning to take and worry about that down the road," Edmondson said.
However, there are some local ordinances that have passed to limit incarceration rates in the future.
Kevin Stitt said he wants penalties standardized from county to county. He is also calling for a greater focus on substance abuse rehab.
“We have to get more rehab facilities and drug courts and really give them an opportunity instead of these long, long sentences," Stitt said.
Stitt also wants to renegotiate contracts with private prisons.
"We've got to be very careful, when you negotiate a contract, that it doesn't ratchet up. You don't guarantee a certain amount of beds are full," said Stitt.
Edmondson said he wants to do away with private prisons all together.
“To build a profit motive into that I think is just flat wrong. So as we reduce prison population, which is my goal, I intend to ween ourselves from private prisons,” Edmondson said.
The Department of Corrections reported to News 9 that Oklahoma's prisons are filled to 113 percent capacity. They also stated that if Oklahoma were to eliminate private prisons, the system would be at 153 percent capacity.