But voters in Oklahoma are pushing back on harsh punishments dealt out to low-level drug offenders
It’s the latest front in the war on drugs.
Oklahoma imprisons about 151 out of every 100,000 women, more than any other state per capita, according to a new report. With about 0.15% of the state’s entire female population behind bars, the Republican-controlled state has a female incarceration rate that’s double the United States national average.
Why? Oklahoma doesn’t have unusually high violent crime statistics—the U.S. World and News Report, citing McKinsey data, ranks the state 37th out of 50th in terms of violent crimes committed. Instead, Oklahoma imprisons more non-violent offenders than any other state in the union, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Nationwide, men overwhelmingly commit violent crimes at a higher rate than women.)
The large female prison population can be partially attributed to the state treating possession of small quantities of drugs as a trafficking offense, thereby triggering stricter sentences. “We see this generational cycle repeat itself time and again,” Kris Steele, a local politico who now runs a prison ministry, told the Journal. “For the types of crimes women are more likely to commit—nonviolent, low-level crimes—we give longer sentences than most places.”
Oklahoma’s women prison population has boomed by a third since 2011 and is expected to increase by another 60% in the next decade, reports the Journal, which like Moneyish is published by Dow Jones, That vastly outstrips the projected 20% growth among its overall inmate population.
Housing such a large prison population doesn’t come cheap. Penitentiaries are already operating beyond capacity and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has asked to triple its existing budget to $1.5 billion. But voters there seem to be moving in a different direction: they recently passed a measure that downgraded drug possession to a misdemeanor that requires treatment instead of incarceration.
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