For decades, politicians competed in the state legislature, for the claim of 'who's tougher on crime'. It was a devastatingly expensive contest. Not for politicians, but for those of us who pay the bills and write the checks to cover their campaign promises. Criminal justice is a very expensive part of the state's budget, It got way too expensive in recent years. High energy sector taxes hid the problem, but now we face it for what it really is. Public safety is a core function of government, but what is the best definition of 'safe'? Why do we lock up felons?
- To make them suffer
- To make our society safer
- To change the felon's behavior
The state agency statistics are years old and hard to find, but as of a few years ago, Oklahoma had just over 15,000 inmates in our prison facilities. Over half of them were in minimum security facilities. Yet they cost us nearly $20,000 each year for each inmate's stay. We spend the least of any state on their medical care. The average public school teacher makes around $45,000 per year. So for each inmate diverted back to 'house arrest' with an ankle bracelet; we can fund a 2% cost-of-living raise to 20 average teachers. The choice is before us. The question will be on the November election ballot. Do we want to remain the #1 state for incarceration of women? Can we find ways to be safe, punish bad behavior; and not punish the good taxpayers by making us victims of crime pay for the incarceration of nonviolent felons? If even 20% of the nonviolent inmates of our prisons can be put into optional house arrest, it may save more families from breaking up. It may keep hundreds of children out of DHS custody. It may result in more employed taxpayers helping us focus on the real core duties of government and sharing the costs.