At a criminal justice conference in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, Gov. Mary Fallin was the headline speaker due to her reform efforts in Oklahoma when it comes to women in prison.
The conference was the US Justice Action Network’s Women Unshackled event and included speakers from across the political spectrum like Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Mia Love (R-UT).
“We're trying to break that cycle. Whatever it is that's going on in their lives and get them on those systems of care, those systems of services to get them on the right path,” Fallin said.
Oklahoma leads the nation in female incarceration and is second in overall population. Fallin said 83% of women are deemed non-violent and nearly 70% have been diagnosed with an ongoing mental health issue.
Oklahoma’s problems with prison overcrowding and mass incarceration have been pillars of Fallin’s final term as governor. On stage she talked about her pushes for change over the last few years, highlighting agency partnerships, workforce training and drug intervention. All of which have had positive results despite their small reach within the prison population.
“We want to put people in programs that we know work, not programs that we hope will work,” Fallin said.
The reforms, however, have been slow and Fallin was not shy about taking jabs at legislators who have dragged their feet on new initiatives including two voter approved state questions, 780 and 781, that were held up this year.
“I thought maybe you were going to get into some of the efforts I had this past legislative session with some of the fights that I had with some of my legislators and some of the male counter parts I took on,” Fallin said after being introduced.
Those fights only ending in one question, the same one the governor ended her speech with; Can Oklahoma do better?
“...those that have substance abuse, mental health issues that are low level offenders, non-violent offenders, are there better solutions?” she asked.