LAWTON, Okla. -- Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
But Comanche County Judge Emmit Tayloe uses an innovative approach to reduce the prison population. Tayloe said, “Describe them as my kids, even some of the older participants. I’m proud of you. Watching you progress could not make me more proud.”
In 2016 – he initiated “community sentencing” here. Rather than incarceration – Judge Tayloe partners with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to rehabilitate offenders. According to Tayloe, “Since then, we have grown to over 100 defendants who are in the program and we have changed lives over the last 3 ½ years and we are seeing success stories that you could never see when you just send people to prison and have them incarcerated.”
Defendants are provided treatment services, personal development, and employment assistance. It is a very intense probation. Offenders must adhere to strict guidelines. If they don’t watch their step, offenders could trip right back to prison. Community Sentencing Deputy Director Camille Walker said, “We do want to keep them out of prison. The problem is with regular probation, there is no funding source. No money to pay for treatment, housing. And in community sentencing we do have all of those resources and we do pay for those services for the individuals.”
Drug and alcohol related felonies are the targeted offenses, though an array of other crimes can also be considered.
Community sentencing builds a foundation of support and motivation. The supervision and treatment programs also have a remarkable impact on criminal behavior.
50 Oklahoma counties actively use community sentencing. The Department of Corrections hopes to establish the program in the remaining 27 counties. According to Walker, “Since November of 17’ we’ve made a diligent effort to educate stakeholders, probation and parole about community sentencing. A lot of people didn’t know this was an available resource to them. Another toll in their toolbox.”
There are many ways courts can punish a defendant. In Comanche County, Judge Emitt Tayloe chooses compassion over incarceration. He said, “Some will spin out. Some don’t make it. But we’ve helped hundreds so far and I plan on doing this for a long time to come. As long as they are willing to work with me I’ll work with them.”