Incarceration Reduction Critical To New Jail Project

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Oklahoma County officials need to take a serious look at reducing its incarceration rate before asking local taxpayers to pay for a new jail.

County officials say voters may be asked soon to approve a one-cent sales tax increase, which would raise $350 million over three years. That money would go to building a new jail or improving the current one.

If the county does nothing, the U.S. Department of Justice, which issued a report last year that cited civil rights and overcrowding problems at the jail, will file a lawsuit to increase property taxes over a three-year period to raise money for a jail project, county officials say.

The enforced property tax increase would cost some local residents more than the sales tax, which is partly funded by people outside the county, but sale taxes are by nature regressive and cost low-income people more of a percentage of their wages. (Here’s an article by Brian Bus in The Journal Record that outlines the two types of tax increases.)

Simply put, there are no good options. Taxes are going to go up one way or another.

But underlying the chronic overcrowding problem at the county jail is the pervasive statewide attitude to lock up as many people as possible. The state leads the nation in the per capita number of women incarcerated. It’s overall incarceration rate for 2007 was 665 per 100,000 residents compared to 506 per 100,000 residents nationally. The state normally ranks in the top five among states in incarceration rates.

The U.S. Department of Justice report pointed out the Oklahoma County jail is overcrowded and doesn’t have enough bed space for its approximately 2,500 inmates. Only eight other counties in the nation incarcerate people at a higher rate than Oklahoma County, according to a Justice Policy Institute study.

Unfortunately, reducing the county’s incarceration rate doesn’t seem to be a major part of the recent discussion when it comes to building a new jail, but it’s probably the most critical issue. There are too many nonviolent offenders, many on drug charges, sitting in jails when they could be on parole or in treatment programs. Too many people are arrested, locked up and their lives ruined in the ongoing, disastrous “War on Drugs,” started by former President Richard Nixon.

Oklahoma County officials should join with local judges, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, among others, to find ways to reduce the incarceration rate at the jail. This could prevent future overcrowding problems and tax hikes.

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Misinformation Campaign: Inhofe, Newspaper Distort Climate Change Issue



(Are Oklahoma leaders responding quickly enough to the state's budget crisis? Read DocHoc's commentary in the Oklahoma Gazette this week. Also, be sure to read another view of the issue.)

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and The Oklahoman editorial page continue their misinformation campaign to deny the impact of global warming in order to support the fossil fuel industry.

As the Copenhagen climate change conference opened, both Inhofe and the newspaper obsessively focused on so-called “climategate,” which has been a media crisis manufactured by those who oppose global warming science. They claim emails obtained by hackers from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom show scientists have tried to distort the science to make global warming seem a bigger problem than it is.

In a recent editorial (“Scientific mischief hangs over climate conference,” December 11, 2009), The Oklahoman argues:

E-mail from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain instead suggests a cabal of climate-change crusaders in white coats who’ve worked for years tamping down opposing views while monkeying with raw data to hide inconvenient truths — such as the "medieval warming period” around the year 1000 and the "little ice age” from about 1500 to 1850. The existence of each suggests recent warming (at least until 1998) might not be all that unusual.

Meanwhile, Inhofe, the infamous Republican senator who calls global warming a hoax, has gone on television demanding an investigation with a smirk and a “I-told-you-so” attitude.

The problem here is that Inhofe, The Oklahoman and others have cherry picked and distorted a few emails that span over a 13-year period. Many of the emails have been interpreted out of context. None of the emails discussed in the media show there was any concerted effort to distort the science or withhold information. There was no “tamping down” other views. Independent scientists are always free to study the global warming issue and publish the results. Medieval warming and a “little ice age,” while relevant to historical weather trends, do not refute recent temperature increases.

The earth is getting warmer. We can see it in the melting of the polar ice cap and glaziers. Temperatures are rising, according to the data. It’s obvious, and, yes, there is a scientific consensus.

Here’s Wikipedia’s entry on the controversy. It contains quotes from the most discussed emails followed by refutations or context. Here's a Think Progress post that shows how the controversy is just another right-wing misinformation campaign.

On its climate change site, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states:

Records from land stations and ships indicate that the global mean surface temperature warmed by about 0.9°F since 1880 (see Figure 1). These records indicate a near level trend in temperatures from 1880 to about 1910, a rise to 1945, a slight decline to about 1975, and a rise to present (NRC, 2006). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in 2007 that warming of the climate system is now “unequivocal,” based on observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level (IPCC, 2007).

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) 2008 State of the Climate Report and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) 2008 Surface Temperature Analysis:

* Since the mid 1970s, the average surface temperature has warmed about 1°F.
* The Earth’s surface is currently warming at a rate of about 0.29ºF/decade or 2.9°F/century.
* The eight warmest years on record (since 1880) have all occurred since 2001, with the warmest year being 2005.

Do Inhofe and The Oklahoman refute this basic information? Then they should do so by providing real contrary evidence. Both Inhofe and the newspaper’s editorial page oppose any cap and trade policies or a tax that would decrease carbon emissions, which scientists believe contribute to global warming, because they support the interests of oil companies over the environment. It’s really not more complicated than that. If global warming science could somehow lead the oil industry to an immediate financial windfall, then Inhofe and the newspaper would be on the other side of the issue.

The bottom line is that alternative, renewable energy development—wind turbines and solar panels, for example—would be a good thing here in Oklahoma and elsewhere even if the planet weren’t getting warmer. Alternative energy reduces our dependence on foreign oil. It’s cleaner energy. It’s better for the environment. It’s cheaper in the long run because it’s renewable.

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MAPS 3 Oversight Remains Essential

Image of Oklahoma City

Now that MAPS 3 has passed, those local citizens who had strong feelings on either side of the issue should ensure city leaders implement appropriate oversight for the $777 million in projects.

The diversity of the projects, from building a new city park and convention center to establishing a streetcar system and improving the state fairgrounds, means there will be more opportunities for waste, budget overruns and other problems.

One of the arguments of some who opposed MAPS 3 is that the overall proposal wasn’t specific enough and future city councils could change or delete the various projects. Consequently, city leaders should be completely transparent about costs and construction timetables about each project.

MAPS 3 will be funded by a one-cent sales tax over a seven-year period. This is public money and the public will essentially own the individual projects. Easy access to the projects for everyone on the social spectrum is vital to ensure the public’s trust.

Those who serve on an oversight board or boards for the projects should come from different stakeholder groups in the city. We don’t need rubber-stamp types on the board. We need engaged watchdogs.

Whether you supported MAPS 3 or not, it’s difficult not to concede its projects could transform Oklahoma City in ways simply unimaginable twenty or even ten years ago. By continuing to invest in its downtown, Oklahoma City is doing the right thing for the future. It’s an exciting time to live and work here.

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