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Oklahoma Prisons Approach Crisis, Fueling Early Release Legislation


March 1993

Oklahoma prisons, glutted by an influx of nonviolent drug offenders, are reaching the breaking point and may have to be taken over by the federal courts (Brian Ford and Wayne Green, "Inmate Boom Fuels Push for Release Law," Tulsa World, 1/29/93, 17A; Chuck Ervin, "Senate Author of Early-Parole Bill Warns of Prison Crisis," Tulsa World, 2/10/93, A5).

Democratic state Senator Cal Hobson of Lexington warned fellow legislators in February that unless the state took drastic action, the federal courts would step in and run the Oklahoma prison system. The federal courts ran the state's prisons for 10 years ending in 1984, mandating millions of dollars in improvements to force the system up to minimum standards. As a consequence, Hobson proposed legislation that would allow early parole of more inmates, while excluding those convicted of violent crimes or those who have been violent or threatening while imprisoned.

In late January, the Oklahoma Corrections Department predicted that without strict limits, the growing rate of incarceration would bankrupt the state by the turn of the century. State planners have projected budget cuts of up to 10 percent for 1994, leading to speculation that three prisons would have to be closed, further exacerbating the space shortage.