2019: The State Is In Crisis On Every Front

 

Oklahoma lags behind in so many socio-economic indicators they are too numerous to count. It’s time we stop lamenting our place in the world and do something about it. Oklahoma’s problems belong to our two United State Senators, our congressmen, the governor, the legislature, county commissioners, city councils, tribal councils, and industry. Because of their action and inaction, Oklahomans are among the poorest, unhealthiest, and most at-risk people in the nation. We don’t live very long, we have more health problems, we are among he least insured, most incarcerated, and of course we aren’t very inclusive. Inclusive is a nice word for being racially tolerant. All of this brings down our quality of life and if there is a misery index we’d have to rank among the highest in the nation.

It is now 2019 and we have precious few resources to address these problems because powerful corporate interests make sure taxes are low for their industries, making cuts for vital services necessary. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are some new state law makers in Oklahoma City who in most cases ousted state solons who thought it was their job to make sure we spent as little money on education and social services as possible. That isn’t an opinion, it is the truth. News of the way we are governed is not a secret. Industry looking to relocate see how we take care of the vulnerable. Oklahoma is among the most cruel and craven states in addressing social needs. The callous approach to public education is embarrassing and has long term effects on the state.

According to a nation-wide study on inclusiveness, Oklahoma ranks 47th lowest. Indicators looked at hate crimes, political representation, anti-discrimination laws, income inequality, incarceration rates and immigration and asylum policies. Oklahoma has always ranked low in the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society study performed every year. One of the most severe indicators on all the different polls on Oklahoma is our catastrophic approach to corrections In the same report, the United States was in 2016 the 23rd most inclusive country before dropping to 69th in 2017. The U.S. comes in at 58th this year.

Oklahoma has now overtaken Louisiana as the state where your chances are greater than any place in this hemisphere that you will go to prison. Oklahoma is not the highest because of high crime rates. Since the 1980’s the crime rate has risen 20 percent. However, the prison population has grown to over 700 percent. A social scientist might theorize those numbers do not collaborate. Anyone wanting to blame it on crime probably didn’t pass simple math in our public schools. We will get to that soon.

The high incarceration rates not only hurt the individual, they hurt their families, their neighborhoods, their cities, and the state. Oklahoma has only doubled down in some cases in response to the crime and incarceration problems. One has only to look to private prisons to see part of the problem. Like a baby chick begging for food, private prisons are constantly crying for more prison funding. The principal owner of private prisons in Oklahoma is the GEO Group which is the second largest private prison corporation in the United States. Oklahoma teachers rallied for their slice of the state budget and received a modest increase after thousands protested at the state capitol. All the GEO Group had to do was shakedown state legislators for a new pact worth $2.8 billion! The state is operating at 114 percent capacity. Prisoners are sleeping in every available space in the prison. GEO Group is receiving the multi billion dollar increase despite a poor performance. They have numerous contract violations including late releases, improper use of restraints, missed or improperly recorded inmate counts and not following medication and nursing rules. Many of the abused were inmates with acute or chronic mental illnesses. This cycle seems to constantly repeat itself. Because private prison corporations’ profit from the number of prisoners they house, they lobby the state for longer sentences including those for women and children.

In the end a poor state like Oklahoma now has the highest incarceration rate in the world. A rate of 1,079 per 100,000 people. By the way the House and Senate sponsors of the new pact were both the recipients of large campaign donations from GEO Group. If that rate seems high, think about what its like for Hispanics living in Oklahoma. For every 100,000 Hispanics in Oklahoma a staggering 1,876 are in prison. Don’t let the numbers overwhelm you, those who profit from human misery and enslavement are counting on it. By the way the vast majority of Oklahomans in prison are functionally illiterate and suffer disproportionately from mental health and substance abuse rates. Education despite the small increase in funding places us near the bottom and 46th for rates of frequent mental distress. Third in the nation for mental health disorders and second highest in the nation for substance abuse. You add everything listed here so far and you have a catastrophe in Oklahoma of cataclysmic proportions. Why aren’t our leaders alarmed?

Clearly, our punitive revenge driven corrections system only exists to punish anyone the state deems guilty of breaking the law. It has not discouraged crime, it has created waves of Oklahomans who will find getting a job harder and more likely to return to crime. The only thing it does is make the incarcerated hate those who sent them to prison. It’s time we demand State law-makers start serious corrections reform, increase funding for education and mental health programs. It will mean a huge investment and must be a shared burden among the poor and wealthy. Tell your legislator to do something about it.

Not because she is related to the publishers of The Oklahoma Eagle, but State Rep. Regina Goodwin has been a crucible for progressive change in Oklahoma. She needs help and a lot of it. We all need to do our part to push for the kind of change that will reverse the painful and deadly path our state is set on.

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