Pubdate: Tue, 05 Jun 2007
Source: Tulsa World (OK)
Copyright: 2007 World Publishing Co.
Author: Ryan C. Underwood


I continue to be amazed each time I read an article about the latest
damage control plan in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. The
recent scheme, which was axed, would have released 100 illegal
immigrants to make room for more incoming prisoners.

Of the more than 31,000 individuals in Oklahoma prison or contract
facilities according to DOC's weekly count, more than 30 percent are
serving time for nonviolent drug offenses, including 14 percent for
simple possession. The Oklahoma Sentencing Commission has recommended
every year to the Legislature that Oklahoma's drug laws, among the
harshest in the nation -- featuring felonies for simple possession --
should be overhauled. They assert that "drug abuse is one of the few
underlying causes of crime with accepted treat ment options."

While we grapple with the political process, every day another bus
arrives, introducing another set of young men to the hardened criminal
elements that they will most likely associate with for the rest of
their lives -- due to the debilitating effects of the criminal record
we have saddled them with. The societal costs of sending a nonviolent
offender to prison, as opposed to treatment or community service,
continue for long after the prisoner has served his time.

Treating drug use as a criminal justice problem is not the answer. We
once tried treating the consumption of alcohol as a criminal justice
problem. The results have regrettably been much the same.


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