Friday, September 20, 2019

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Article Index

VI. Solutions

      Possible workable solutions are well researched. The difficulty lies in finding what combination of solutions will work best in decreasing the incarceration rate of women in the most cost effective way, such that it is palatable to legislatures in conservative states that are economically strained. Some solutions include funding more social welfare and substance abuse programs as well as being more proactive with drug crimes in prevention measures instead of contributing to the very high incarceration rate in the state.

      Drug courts are one way of addressing the female incarceration rate. From 2002 to 2005, while women only represented about 10 percent of the incarcerated population, they represented almost 32 percent of all those admitted to drug court. Because graduates of drug court were 63 percent less likely than successful standard probation offenders, the savings over four years to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections were estimated to be in access of $87,123,275. Oklahoma saved an additional $3.25 million because thirteen infants were born drug free.

      If these savings were not enough, drug court also had an extremely positive impact on the ability of graduates to become more self-sufficient. The average monthly income of women entering drug court is only $488. The average monthly income of the women at graduation doubles, while the income of men increases by half. However, women graduates of drug court make the same amount as men when they enter drug court, which is around $1000 a month. This highlights just how much lower a woman's earning potential is than her male counterpart's.

      Expanding the reach of the drug court would do much for the incarceration rate of women, taking into account the needs of the whole person. Expansion is needed because of the women released during 2011, 915 had a need for substance abuse treatment, but only 31 percent of them completed treatment prior to release. Treatment is key to lower rates of recidivism because only 23.5 percent of drug court graduates reoffend as compared to 38.2 percent of successful standard probation offenders and 54.3 percent of released inmates. Thus, the infrastructure already in place with the Drug Court program should be expanded.

      Despite all of the good that drug courts have done for Oklahoma, district attorneys (DAs) in some counties will not refer offenders to drug court because they do not want to appear “soft on crime.” Therefore, a necessary step to expand use of drug courts would be to take discretion of whether or not to refer to drug court away from the DAs. Instead, perhaps giving the discretion to the defendant's lawyer or making referral mandatory would be a better option, as long as the defendant meets certain criteria. Thus, taking discretion away from the DAs about whether to refer to Drug Court would create an influx of possible Drug Court participants.

      Another step that Oklahoma needs to take includes revisiting how it treats violent versus nonviolent crime. Six percent of all men and women serving life without parole sentences are serving for nonviolent crimes. Unless Oklahoma really has forty-three big time pimps and drug dealers, this number seems far too large. That both a person's first offense for selling cocaine and first-degree sexual assault carry five-year minimum sentences speaks loudly of Oklahoma's mislaid priorities. This could be modified by introducing a sentencing matrix into Oklahoma's statute so that people possessing or selling small amounts of drugs are not disproportionately punished.

      In addition, introducing a sentencing matrix would prevent jury confusion as to how much a person would actually serve of their sentence. As we saw in the example in the introduction, the jury in that case sentenced the defendant to fifty years because they thought she was going to serve a fraction of that time, probably with a lot of time on parole. Instead of giving juries (and judges) such a huge expansion of time with which to work, a sentencing matrix would give them a more coherent structure with which to work. This would lead to more consistent sentencing for offenses involving different amounts of controlled substances. Also, Oklahoma breaks down most violent crimes by how bad the crime is (i.e. first, second, and third degree sexual assault) and gives different punishments accordingly. Why not for drug crimes? Thus, introducing matrix sentencing into the Oklahoma statute would have extremely positive effects, including reducing jury confusion and consistent sentencing.

      Therefore, there are many workable solutions that Oklahoma can implement with ease. First, Oklahoma can make the decision to send an offender directly to drug court without waiting for DA referrals in order to ensure expansion of the program. Second, the state can then build off of existing infrastructure that not only provides much needed treatment, but also provides education, and a respective increase in earning power and independence. Third, the state can implement a sentencing matrix into the Oklahoma statutes in order to clarify sentencing, which in turn leads to consistent sentencing that does not disproportionately punish nonviolent offenders.

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Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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