Corrections Bubble

Image of Lady Justice

Oklahoma faces an unsustainable corrections bubble.

We’re reminded of this fact by yet another report that shows the state is one of the country’s leaders in the percentage of people it incarcerates.

The report, conducted by the Pew Center on the States, gives us no new, startling information. It just confirms what many here know already. The state’s high imprisonment rate is unsustainable and its tough sentencing laws and policies need radical modification. The state’s judicial branch of government and its corrections system need to find ways to keep non-violent offenders out of jail by expanding parole programs.

(Here is the Oklahoma information in the report. Here is the overall report.)

The report argues:

Serious, chronic and violent offenders belong behind bars, for a long time, and the expense of locking them up is justified many times over. But for hundreds of thousands of lower-level inmates, incarceration costs taxpayers far more than it saves in prevented crime. And new national and state research shows that we are well past the point of diminishing returns, where more imprisonment will prevent less and less crime.

Here are some facts presented in the report about Oklahoma:

  • One in 42 people in Oklahoma is under the control of its correctional system.
  • One in 76 people in Oklahoma are in prison or jail, which ranks the state seventh nationally.
  • Fifty-five percent of those in the correctional system are in jail or prison. This is the second highest in the country and a rise from 33 percent in 1982.
  • Only six cents is spent on probation and parole compared to every dollar spent on prisons.
  • The rise in incarceration rates and spending has been astronomical over the last 25 year or so.

Political expediency and ideology have driven the increases in incarceration and the money the state spends on housing its inmates. Too many people are imprisoned for simple drug possession. No elected politician, judge or prosecutor wants to be seen as someone who is not “strong on crime.” Inmates and their families hold no political clout.

And so the system grows and grows, and nothing is ever done.

Is there a way to take political risk out of trying to reduce the state’s incarceration rates? Probably not in the current political climate in this state. Yet the corrections bubble does have a bursting point. But when will it burst and what will be the fallout? Will it eventually mean federal intervention?

Oklahoman Outfoxed

The Lost Ogle, one of my favorite Oklahoma blogs, recently published a post about a war of words between Fox 25 and The Oklahoman. It appears Fox 25 ran some stories about the decline of the newspaper business, including The Oklahoman, which then shot back with some ads critical of the television station. Of course, it all begs the question: Who cares? The decline of the newspaper industry has been well documented for years now and the infotainers at Fox 25 do whatever it’s they do. But I agree with The Lost Ogle. Fox 25 wins this one with a slam dunk. Watch the video below.

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Oklahoma’s World Ambassadors

Image of Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips found at http://www.flaminglips.com/main.php

Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize - we're floating in space -
Do You Realize - that happiness makes you cry
Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun don't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

Do You Realize - Oh - Oh - Oh
Do You Realize - that everyone you know
Someday will die –lyrics from the Flaming Lips song “Do You Realize”

The question is do Oklahoma economic developers and chamber of commerce folks realize how much Wayne Coyne and his band The Flaming Lips have helped fight the state’s declining national image?

Here in the land of political isolation and dead ideologies, among the infamous Sally Kern anti-gay rants, the Randy Terrill anti-immigration crusade, the attacks on science, Oklahoma resident Wayne Coyne has presented to the world a different image of Oklahoma. This is an image of inclusiveness, creativity and diversity.

Some state leaders recognize this and The Lips accomplishments. For example, The Lips song “Do You Realize” was recently named the state’s official rock song. Here’s the Rolling Stone magazine article about it. (Yeah, Rolling Stone.) It was mentioned throughout the national media. For example, Rachel Maddow and a guest talked about it recently on her MSNBC show.

Too often, as we all know, Oklahoma makes news because of its extremist politicians or its dire social problems or its never-ending weather tragedies.

Wayne Coyne and his band tell the world a different and, well, happier story about Oklahoma. This helps the state’s image in a substantial way.

Oklahoma Porn

Why does it not seem surprising that Oklahoma ranks high in subscriptions to online porn sites?

Benjamin Edelman, a Harvard business professor, recently published an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that concluded porn subscribers are “more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality. “

Oklahoma ranks fifth among broadband users behind Utah, Alaska, Mississippi and Hawaii, according to the study. (Click here to see the chart.)

So what does this tell us about Oklahoma, the reddest of red states? Well, one obvious interpretation is there remains a huge difference between the appearance and reality among many Oklahomans.

What else is new, right?

Run J.C. Run

Oklahoma Democrats should hope former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, a Republican, runs for governor in 2010.

Watts hasn’t announced anything official, but the political rumor mill speculates he might run. If so, he would challenge U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin. A Watts-versus-Fallin matchup would mean the Republicans would have to raise more money because the gubernatorial primary would be contested. Would their political race get ugly as they argued against each other about failed neoconservative policies? Would this alienate political moderates in the state?

On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmondson have indicated they plan to run for governor.

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Fallin Announces Governor Bid

Image of Mary Fallin

U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin will be a formidable candidate in the 2010 Oklahoma governor’s race, and her election could give Republicans control of the state government.

Fallin, 54, a former lieutenant governor and state representative, announced she was running for governor on Friday. She has widespread name recognition and deep political experience. She is telegenic. She also supports the GOP hard-line conservative platform, which continues to sell well in Oklahoma, the reddest of red states.

Political pundits have speculated U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, another Republican, might run for governor as well.

On the Democratic side, both Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmondson have indicated they will run for the position.

The 2010 elections are distant, but Democrats need to energize around their gubernatorial candidates. Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate. A Republican governor, along with the GOP legislative majority, could advance an ultra-conservative agenda—an agenda of “isolation”—that would limit the state’s economic opportunities and further damage the state’s national image. For now, Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat who cannot run again for governor, can veto the worst GOP legislation.

If you think the state is conservative now, just wait until the GOP controls the legislative and executive branches of government here.

Much could depend on the economy. If President Barack Obama’s financial rescue plans are successful and the local economy is thriving in 2010, Democrats here can depict Fallin as an obstructionist and a hard-line ideologue. If the economy has not improved by 2010, and Democrats move to the right, as many do in Oklahoma, then Fallin’s chances increase.

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