The Oklahoma Board of Corrections should be applauded, not pilloried, for making a common-sense and absolutely correct decision to follow the law and reduce the state prison population.
The policy change, long overdue and recommended by the governor as well as independent justice reform evaluators, could save the agency at least $2.3 million over the next 18 months, incentivize inmates to follow rules and make prisons safer for corrections workers.
More than 8,000 inmates are serving sentences for convictions serious enough that they cannot be considered for parole until they reach the 85 percent mark in their sentence. A corrections department rule also prevented them from accruing good-behavior credits until the 85 percent mark instead of accruing credits throughout their sentence. As a consequence, some inmates served up to 93 percent of their sentence, at a significant cost to the state.
The change does not give inmates something for nothing. It promotes good behavior while maintaining sentencing mandates for serious lawbreakers. It will encourage more inmates to follow rules and to enroll in prison education and training programs earlier in their incarceration so that they might actually leave prison with skills.
Concerns raised by at least one lawmaker that the policy change was a “backroom” decision that presents a danger to the public is a distortion of reality. The change complies with state law and was made in full view of the public after significant public discussion. It simply accelerates applicable prison releases by a few months, saving the state money and producing inmates who have learned to live by the rules and better themselves behind bars. Giving credit where credit is due is the right choice, and we applaud it.