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Oklahoma prison policy wastes at least $5 million annually, ACLU says

Aug 18, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

OKLAHOMA CITY — A civil rights group says some Oklahoma inmates are being held longer than what is legally required, costing the state millions.The ACLU of Oklahoma recently sent Board of Corrections members a letter asking them to revise their interpretation of how long those required to serve 85 percent of the sentence can be held.The crimes requiring 85 percent range from first-degree murder to child pornography and shooting with intent to kill. Over the years, lawmakers have added offenses to the list, which has contributed to the growing prison population. At issue is when the agency starts applying credits, known as good time credits, toward early release.
Currently, the agency does not apply the credits until after the offender has served 85 percent of the sentence. As a result, many offenders are serving longer than 85 percent of the sentence.

By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau | Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 12:00 am

OKLAHOMA CITY — A civil rights group says some Oklahoma inmates are being held longer than what is legally required, costing the state millions.

The ACLU of Oklahoma recently sent Board of Corrections members a letter asking them to revise their interpretation of how long those required to serve 85 percent of the sentence can be held.

The crimes requiring 85 percent range from first-degree murder to child pornography and shooting with intent to kill. Over the years, lawmakers have added offenses to the list, which has contributed to the growing prison population.

At issue is when the agency starts applying credits, known as good time credits, toward early release.

Currently, the agency does not apply the credits until after the offender has served 85 percent of the sentence. As a result, many offenders are serving longer than 85 percent of the sentence.

The ACLU of Oklahoma believes those credits should begin accumulating when the offender enters prison, but not applied until the 85 percent has been served.

The ACLU is in agreement with Gov. Mary Fallin, who earlier this year sent the Board of Corrections a memorandum: “I hereby direct the State Board of Corrections to immediately amend its earned credit policy to more accurately reflect the plain language of the statutes of Oklahoma,” it said in part.

Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said his organization has been studying the issue for nearly two years and had planned litigation in the fall on behalf of multiple offenders should changes not occur.

“For the price of both widespread injustice and wasted tax dollars, our state receives little, if any, penological or public safety benefits,” the ACLU letter said.

The ACLU of Oklahoma estimated that the incorrect interpretation used by DOC costs at least an extra $5 million a year to pay for more than 160,000 extra days of total incarceration, according to the letter.

Terri Watkins, a DOC spokeswoman, said the agency received the letter and is reviewing it. The agency could not confirm the figure provided by the ACLU, she said.

The Board of Corrections has yet to take action on the issue but could do so at an upcoming meeting, Watkins said.

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