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By the numbers

New dashboard puts Oklahoma criminal justice data at the public’s fingertips

As of this week, Oklahoma’s state prisons hold 26,063 people, and an additional 32,179 are under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. The number of people imprisoned in Oklahoma has dropped by about 3.9 percent over the last year, while the supervised population has fallen by about 5.1 percent. In order to reach the national average incarceration rate, the state would need to reduce its total incarceration population of 39,000 (including both state prisons and local jails) to about 23,221—a change of about 15,779 people, 
or -40.5 percent.

Though Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis is a constant topic of debate, it is often difficult to find basic information about where it stands: How many people are incarcerated? How does that compare to other places? The Oklahoma DOC Tracker, a tool released last week by Open Justice Oklahoma, aims to bridge that gap by providing convenient access to the most current data about our state’s incarceration crisis and allowing comparisons to other states and to benchmarks like the national average. 

The Oklahoma DOC Tracker draws on weekly public data releases from the Department of Corrections and reports released by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. It attempts to clarify the differences among various incarceration rate figures that are often referenced in debates, which can vary widely based on whether they include people incarcerated in local jails or only state prisons, or whether they are calculated based on the adult population or the total population.

Regardless of the calculation, the Oklahoma DOC Tracker reinforces the fact that our state’s justice system is far out of step with the rest of the nation when it comes to the proportion of our citizens that we put behind bars. Recent reforms to parole appear to be making a dent, with the prison population decreasing by more than 1,000 people since November. However, if we hope to fall out of the top 5 in incarceration—much less to the national average—we must accelerate our efforts and pursue ambitious reform proposals in the coming years.

Gov. Stitt’s administration has indicated that they aim to reduce Oklahoma’s incarceration ranking to 20th in the country. As reform advocates, we are encouraged that the state’s leadership is setting lofty goals. Using the Oklahoma DOC Tracker’s comparison tool, we know reaching the number 20 spot in imprisonment will require the state to reduce our prison population from its current size of 26,063 people to about 15,409, a reduction of about 10,654 people, or -40.9 percent. 

Achieving that drastic reduction would require a sea change in our legal system, a wholesale rethinking of who we punish and how harshly. The last three legislative sessions have shown all too clearly that despite broad public support and encouraging rhetoric from state leaders, justice reform advocates must fight tooth and nail for even modest changes to our criminal legal system. Strong leadership from the highest state office will be absolutely essential to achieving meaningful reform that is up to the enormous task ahead. We hope the Oklahoma DOC Tracker provides a useful tool to understand our incarceration crisis and gauge our progress towards alleviating it.

Open Justice Oklahoma is a project of Oklahoma Policy Institute designed to provide Oklahomans with a better understanding of how Oklahoma’s justice system operates and how we can use it to efficiently reduce crime and improve rehabilitation. The Oklahoma DOC tracker is available at bit.ly/DOCtracker. 

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Ryan Gentzler is the Director of Open Justice Oklahoma at the Oklahoma Policy Institute (okpolicy.org).

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