Feeling safe is an elusive and fleeting emotion. But it has captured the minds, hearts, and treasure of Oklahoma voters. We have leveraged the fear of incarceration far beyond it's realistic promise of a return on the investment.
So now Oklahoma has the highest rate of female inmates (per capita). We were told repeatedly that if we make the sentence stiff, less people will get out of line with our mandated social norms.
Somehow we need another option.
Even a misdemeanor infraction, like failing to produce a prescription for the bottle of drugs in her purse, still brings a 12 month sentence in the county jail. At $75 per day, that means the city who arrests her, pays over $27,000 just for her board & room at the county jail.
If she's a single parent, those kids are going to be in foster care for at least this 12 months. the cost for foster care of 2 kids for a year is nearly $20,000.
If she lost her job, there will be little prospects for her employment (especially with a police record). So now we have to add the public assistance programs of TANF, SNAP, and Medicaid.
The net result is nearly $50,000 for that misdemeanor possession of a bottle of pills.
So, what if this mom was put in house arrest? An ankle bracelet can assure law enforcement of her compliance. But at least her kids are in a natural family setting. Yes, there are still going to costs to society for making this happen, but in terms of sociology, we may end up with a better outcome.
The truth is that incarceration does harm society. It should only be used for putting away truely dangerous people. And the vast majority of Oklahoma's inmates are housed at minimal to moderate security facilities. We don't have them in there because they are a serious danger to society. In many cases they were doing things that are legal to do in some other states.
Children always suffer when parents make bad choices. But a humane society must seek to find ways to come to the childrens' cause. They love the only family they really know. And anything we do to undermine stable family units, will cost us yet more, in the generations to come.
There are probably even better solutions, and perhaps this idea will not be as workable as we describe it. But surely our 150 members of the Oklahoma Legislature can do better than the current pathetic system.