The Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) commends FWD.US and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ effort to educate the public as to potential financial impacts of SQ 805 if it were to become law. While ODOC appreciates the goal of reducing sentence lengths absent a commensurate public safety benefit, the calculation of the financial impact to ODOC’s operating budget cannot account for the realities of budget forecasting, sentencing, and prison operations.
The recent budget shortfall, unexpected even one year ago, reduced ODOC’s FY 2021 budget by more than $24,000,000. This nullifies the projected savings from SQ 805 for the next 4.5 years. The pandemic coupled with a drastic drop in oil and gas revenues precipitates a bleak fiscal forecast for years. Any cost savings realized by potential sentence reductions will help plug the most serious holes in the agency’s operations.
OCPA predicts ending sentence enhancement for non-violent felonies will reduce overall sentence lengths, saving ODOC millions of dollars. This does not account for the judicial system’s ability to apply the maximum range of punishment and/or consecutive sentences based on multiple felony charges; a practice that could reduce projected savings. For reference, ODOC inmates are serving an average of three separate sentences.
The predicted reduction of 8.5% of ODOC’s prison population over the next decade equates to an average of 200 inmates each year from our current population of approximately 24,000. At best, OCPA projects closing facilities; however, ODOC facility maintenance and improvement costs are dynamic and difficult to forecast the further we project. Accruing savings requires ODOC’s financial needs remain static as well as the budget itself.
ODOC continually seeks to maximize available resources to provide inmates the tools necessary to transition into productive citizens. While we encourage candid discussion on improving criminal justice in Oklahoma, ODOC must remain practical, albeit optimistic, about our financial future. We look forward to furthering the discussion on moving Oklahoma to a Top Ten State for criminal justice reform.