When Harry Coates campaigned for the Oklahoma state Senate in 2002, he had one approach to crime: “Lock ’em up and throw away the key.”
Now, Coates is looking for that key. He and other tough-on-crime lawmakers across the country, faced with steep budget shortfalls, are searching anxiously for ways to let inmates out of prison faster and keep more offenders on the street.
Oklahoma’s preferred answer for crime has collided head-on with a budget deficit estimated at $600 million, and prison costs that have increased more than 30 percent in the last decade.
And this is common all across the country. As a result, prisoners are being released early, others are only being put on probation, and still others are receiving treatment for drug addiction. This is helping the problem somewhat. No, no. Not the money. I mean, yes, that is being helped, but the real problem – the one where non-violent offenders go to prison to lose years of their lives, where they lose any real chance at becoming better, where they go to learn how to be better criminals – that is being helped.
It’s just for all the wrong reasons.