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Senate approves pilot program for women offenders

Sen. Kim David Sen. Kim David
Sen. David urges support for women offender pilot program.
Sen. Burrage debates for women offender pilot program.
Sen. Brinkley debates bill.
Sen. Shumate says program works.

For years, Oklahoma has locked up more women per capita than any state in the country. These women often leave behind children who are at greater risk for eventually becoming a part of the corrections system themselves. This session State Sen. Kim David is championing legislation authorizing a new pilot program to keep nonviolent female offenders out of prison. On Wednesday, the full Senate gave unanimous approval to her legislation, Senate Bill 1278, co-authored by Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage.

“This is a program that is literally a last chance for these women. They no longer qualify for drug court or other programs aimed at keeping nonviolent offenders out of prison,” said David, R-Porter. “But 85 percent of these women have children, and we know if we don’t intervene the cycle will just continue. We know the program can work, and it can turn lives around while helping Oklahoma address the ever-increasing cost of simply putting these women behind bars.”

The bill authorizes the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to enter into a Pay-for-Success (PFS) contract with criminal justice programs that have had proven outcomes reducing public sector costs associated with the incarceration of women. Nonprofit organizations would provide upfront funding and the state would only reimburse the cost for those women who successfully complete the program.

Burrage praised David for bringing the bill to the floor, and urged the full Senate to support it.

“This is a great program. It’s what we need to be doing more of in Oklahoma,” said Burrage, D-Claremore. “It’s smart on crime, it’s compassionate and it keeps women out of prison and with their families.”

The idea behind SB 1278 is a program in Tulsa that began in 2009 called “Women In Recovery,” (WIR) and is funded through the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, said the program has been highly successful, drawing national attention.

“This has been lauded as a national program and model that can be used to not only reconnect families…but really put us forward in the area of restorative justice,” Shumate said.

WIR is currently serving 106 women. The average completion rate is 68 percent, and those women who graduate have a dramatically lower recidivism rate. The rigorous program includes mental health services, substance abuse treatment, parenting and family counseling and classes as well as employment, education and training services. The legislation will enable more offenders to have access to this program or others modeled after it.

Sen. Rick Brinkley, R-Owasso, said the measure was possibly one of the most important bills the Senate would vote on this session, even though many people may never know about it.

“Many of us understand the idea of sending these women to prison, but the reality is that most of them never actually get to a prison where there are any kind of treatment programs. They’re held in county jails where they receive absolutely no treatment whatsoever for the problems that got them into this situation to begin with,” Brinkley said. He urged his fellow members to support the bill because, “it is necessary, it’s good and it’s right.”

SB 1278 was approved on a vote of 43-0 and now moves to the House for further consideration.

Contact info
Sen. David: (405) 521-5590