Oklahoma could see its incarceration rates, especially those among nonviolent female offenders, decrease in the coming years thanks to a new innovative alternative-to-incarceration pilot program approved by the governor Tuesday. Senate Bill 1278, by Sen. Kim David and Rep. Leslie Osborn, will create a “Pay-for-Success” contract pilot program to help nonviolent female offenders get the substance abuse treatment, counseling and other services they need to become self-sufficient, productive citizens.
“Our prisons are overflowing, underfunded and understaffed. We must be smarter when it comes to addressing crime in our state, especially nonviolent drug offenses,” said David, R-Porter. “We can no longer afford to simply warehouse nonviolent offenders. We need to address the cause of their problems – poverty, addiction, abuse and other issues that won’t go away if they’re simply locked up with no counseling and treatment. Incarceration simply feeds the cycle of poverty and crime, which is why our recidivism rates are also some of the highest in the country. This is a proven program that has a high success rate of rehabilitating female offenders and getting them back to their families and out of the corrections system for good.”
The bill authorizes the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to enter into a Pay-for-Success (PFS) contract pilot program with the Women in Recovery (WIR) program in Tulsa, which has proven outcomes with reducing public sector costs associated with female incarceration. Under the PFS contract, the state will negotiate with nonprofits, like WIR, to deliver specific outcomes, such as reduced incarceration. Private philanthropy will provide upfront funding for the program. A contract will only be paid once OMES verifies that the diversion or reentry program has been successfully completed by a participant.
OMES will be responsible for negotiating what will be considered success in the program as well as the payment structure with the service provider. Program outcomes will also be measured by OMES and will be available for legislative review.
According to WIR, all of the women who enroll in their program have spent time in jail awaiting sentencing and would have received significant prison sentences and actually have served at least three years (on average) in an ODOC facility. The cost to the state of three years of incarceration is approximately $40,000 whereas this same amount of time in WIR only costs $14,500. Therefore, the state stands to potentially save approximately $8,500 per enrollee annually by utilizing WIR.
Of the nearly 2,800 females incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons, 85 percent of them have children. David noted that the program will save the state a significant amount of money simply by reuniting these mothers with their children. Studies have shown that children of incarcerated women are at greater risk of dropping out of school, running away from home, abusing drugs, becoming involved in the juvenile justice system, being placed in DHS custody and foster care, and becoming incarcerated themselves. Together these social problems cost the state millions of dollars annually.
“Most of the women currently incarcerated can be rehabilitated and become productive citizens as the Women in Recovery program has shown repeatedly. This pilot program is going to offer courts an alternative to incarceration that will keep more families together and allow these women to become contributing members of society,” said David. “I’m looking forward to getting the program started and I want to thank Rep. Osborn and my colleagues for helping me get this legislation to the governor’s desk.”
The new law will go into effect November 1, 2014.