September 29, 2010
We’re Number 1! Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate of 132 per 100,000 was nearly twice the national average and was far and away the highest in the nation.
At least 4500 minor children in Oklahoma have a mother who is behind bars. Care to speculate what future holds for these “wards of the state?” Here is what research reveals: About 75% of children with a single parent who is in jail, will eventually join their parent (a figure of speech) behind bars. It is a cycle that is hard, but not impossible to break. After holding steady for two years, Oklahoma’s overall prison population grew by 723 inmates, or 2.9 percent in FY ’10. In 2009, Oklahoma imprisoned 655 people per 100,000 population, the third highest rate in the nation.
It is important to note, that over one half of the Oklahoma male prisoners share a common trait: No high school diploma. Improve graduation rates and common sense dictates that we would end up spending far less money building and maintaining prisons in the future.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ $462 million appropriation accounts for 7 percent of our total state budget. The current budget crunch has caused staffing levels for Oklahoma correctional officers to fall below 73 percent, with about 700 fewer officers than are needed, according to Department of Corrections director, Justin Jones.
Now comes along state question 774 which would force the state to raise spending on education to the level of surrounding states. As strong supporter of doing what we can to improve education in Oklahoma, this sounds good. For the record, currently I am president of FYI, a non-profit that is part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts to improve high school graduation rates. I am also a member of the board of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Schools. I have served as “Principal for the day” at my former grade school (Grover Cleveland), junior high (Taft) and high school (Northwest Classen). So, I do more than just give a damn. I proudly give my time, thoughts and occasionally, my money to improving education in our state.
This question is so poorly written and conceived, that passage would have a devastating impact on the budgets for prisons as well as other already financially struggling state agencies. Or more likely, it would dramatically increase everyone’s taxes. Just as troubling, it holds precious few safeguards that any meaningful progress will be made in the classroom. Of course, State Question 774 is not about improving education in our state. It is simply a naked money grab by the teacher unions — regardless of the impact on Oklahoma’s prisons, roads, health or social services.
Improving education in our state is obviously a sound idea. State Question 774 is not.
Entry Filed under: Editorial. .