MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 26, 2014

Fund system then tweak sentences


— Oklahoma senators should be more concerned with funding an overwhelmed prison system than finding ways to extend the sentences of prisoners.

The Senate Public Safety Committee recently unanimously approved six measures that would increase fines, penalties or sentences for some crimes.

That strikes us as election-year grandstanding.

Crime has always been a problem. But some candidates further their careers by using their constituents’ fears.

The senators on this committee and every legislator who votes yes on these proposals will hold up their vote as proof they are tough on crime.

They also will attack their election opponents for being soft on crime.

Our state’s prison system is overloaded, underfunded and in need of repair.

Oklahoma locks up more women per capita and has the fourth-highest overall incarceration rate in the country, according to data reported by the Associated Press.

The AP reported that the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice think tank, showed Oklahoma locks up 648 people per 100,000.

Using stricter penalties as a deterrent only works with people who are inclined to rationally weigh consequences in the first place.

It has not been proven that hardened criminals or sociopaths are deterred by the death penalty. So, it’s hard to believe they will care about more time in jail.

Crime is a problem. We get that.

And some people convicted of particularly heinous crimes should be off the streets for as long as possible.

But housing prisoners for longer periods of time just continues to strain a prison system in need of more funding.

Leave the tougher penalties alone for now and solve the prison system’s problems first.