Oklahoma’s ‘mean’ laws to blame

PrisonWomanAndrew Knittle reports in the Oklahoman today that a sociologist claims Oklahoma’s ‘mean’ laws to blame for high female incarceration rate.

Oklahoma has “mean” laws, provides little help to addicts and the mentally ill and is full of tough-on-crime politicians who are not concerned with rehabilitating criminals, an OU sociologist is quoted from a Wednesday forum on female incarceration.  Oklahoma holds the distinction as the state that locks up women at the highest rate in the nation.

PrisonGuardSusan Sharp, a University of Oklahoma sociology professor who has been studying the state’s high rate of female incarceration since the 1990s, was highly critical of Oklahoma’s drug laws, calling them “mean” and overly punitive. She said the state’s tough-on-crime sentencing guidelines are to blame for nearly all of the women serving lengthy terms in state prison.

Sharp said women usually end up in prison due to three factors: Coming from a poverty-stricken background, being in relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior and suffering from a long history of abuse.

“We’ve ignored these families for generations,” Sharp said.

PrisonCrowd1As girls growing up in these environments become women, they usually fall into a criminal lifestyle due to one of the three “pathways,” Sharp said.

Sharp said too many women are being sentenced to lengthy prison terms for having quantities of drugs that would bring little to no punishment in other states.

“It’s the way we define drug trafficking (in Oklahoma) … if you’re arrested with five grams of crack cocaine, you can be charged with trafficking,” Sharp said.

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