Tag Archive for Oklahoma

Although Oklahoma Tops US in Female Incarceration, In Tulsa, the Muddy Paws Dog Grooming Program Has Had No Recidivism Among its First 84 Inmate Grads

A photograph of a cell block in the Wisconsin ...

A photograph of a cell block in the Wisconsin State Prison. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the motto of “pets helping woman inmates shed their shaggy past,” Pets Helping People’s Muddy Paws program in Tulsa  has so far trained 84 incarcerated females from the Turley Correctional Center, Drug Court and Women in Recovery to be pet groomers and kennel technicians. Since then, none of them were subsequently arrested for crime.

Oklahoma leads the country in female incarceration, with nearly double the national average. The 2012 fiscal year annual report for the state’s Department of Corrections shows Oklahoma at a rate of 121 female inmates per 100,000 women, versus the US average of 65.

Each class rotation runs 40 hours each week for four months, at a cost of $7,000 per inmate student, but training is provided at no charge to the trainees. Pets Helping People (PHP) utilizes rescue and shelter dogs to teach grooming techniques, and this increases the chances for pets to be successfully adopted into a loving home.

Katheryn Pennington, a PHP board member and volunteer, said

The state needs to deal with the reintegration of these women into society, and PHP is helping to address this crisis. Muddy Paws graduates are employed in local businesses, pay taxes and participate in society. By learning a trade, these women have the dignity of supporting themselves and their families, thereby preventing repeat behavior. Investing in these graduates is an investment in the future.

The program, which allows another chance for many Oklahoma women who are willing to work for it, is expanding. Proceeds from a recent fundraising event will go toward a new grooming and training room at Muddy Paws.

Program graduate Brandi Navarro was in and out of trouble before she sold two Lortabs to an undercover cop. She landed in jail for three months before heading to Drug Court. After Muddy Paws training as a dog groomer and kennel technician, she was one of four ex-inmates who went to work full-time at a Tulsa shop called Shaggle Waggle.

When Navarro first came to Shaggy Waggle, she was shy and didn’t talk much, according to Dexter Stroud, who owns the grooming business with Dwynne Cook. Eventually, Navarro grew more relaxed as she became more proficient in her new skills.

Navarro said

I never would have thought I would be grooming dogs, but I’m really proud, and I feel really important to myself and others. I’m happy, clean and sober and feel like I have a purpose in my life now.

Perhaps your community would like to start an inmate training program in dog grooming or some other field. Everybody benefits, the women, the community and the shelter dogs.


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Oklahoma’s Cruel Drug Laws and Outdated Sentencing Guidelines Help Make it the U.S. Leader in Female Incarceration

Oklahoma State Capitol

Oklahoma State Capitol (Photo credit: StevenM_61)

At a recent forum, University of Oklahoma sociology professor Susan Sharp charged that her state’s drug laws are “mean,” and that its tough-on-crime sentencing guidelines are to blame for nearly all of the women serving lengthy prison terms there. Oklahoma’s backwards prison system provides little help to addicts and the mentally ill, and the state is full of “lock ‘em all up” politicians who are unconcerned with rehabilitating criminals.

In recent years, Oklahoma has been the state that imprisons women at the highest rate in the nation. Oklahoma locks up 128 women per 100,000—nearly twice the national average. At the end of the last fiscal year, roughly 2,600 women were incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons, a figure that has remained relatively flat since 2005. A disproportionate percentage of them are black, and 85% of all female prisoners in Oklahoma are mothers.

Sharp declared:

Women usually end up in prison due to three factors: coming from poverty-stricken backgrounds, being in relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior, and suffering from a long history of abuse. As girls growing up in these environments become women, they usually fall into a criminal lifestyle due to one of these three pathways. Yet we’ve ignored these families for generations.

Sharp complained that 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. She also spoke out against drug traffickers being forced to serve 85% of their sentences when drug rehabilitation would do more good at a considerably lower cost to the state.

The way Oklahoma defines drug trafficking is the root-cause of the problem. Someone arrested with five grams of crack cocaine can be charged with trafficking and face a sentence up to 25 years. Yousef Khanfar, an award-winning photographer who has spent years photographing and interviewing women in Oklahoma’s prison system, said at the same forum: “In Chicago and other places, if they found you had only five grams of crack cocaine, they would flush it down the toilet. Putting someone in prison for 25 years costs $2 million or $3 million, whereas a year in rehab costs about $50,000.

Sharp charged that Oklahoma doesn’t invest enough money in mental health facilities and drug-treatment programs. She also criticized the state’s participation in a new Justice Reinvestment Initiative program that sends men and women on parole back to prison for the slightest infraction—even missing an appointment or failing to pay a monthly fine. ““We have set up debtors’ prisons in Oklahoma,” Sharp laments.

Jane Nelson, chair of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, said:

We hope to see legislation enacted in the next legislative session that will find alternatives to prison for women convicted of nonviolent offenses. Too many women are going to prison, destroying their families, because of addictions.

One study reported that while 40% of Oklahoma women sent to prison were black, only 29.6% of black women were placed on probation, whereas 53% of Oklahoma white women were sentenced to prison (versus 29.4% of women nationally), and a whopping 63.7% of white gals got probation.

Another study revealed that only 9.2% of Oklahoma female prisoner were found guilty of violent offenses, versus 34.6% for drug offenses and 15% for simple drug possession. Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate for drug offenders is higher than the national average. This speaks to the need for effective drug abuse programs both inside the institutions and in the communities.


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Is Oklahoma Slipping Back Into Its Old Ways?

Seal of OklahomaThe Oklahoma Legislature approved House Bill 2028 in 2009. This bill allows the use of pepper spray and electromagnetic shock devices in juvenile detention centers. It was signed into law. The office of juvenile affairs, which requested the bill in the first place, has not yet changed its own rules to allow these measures. Rumor has it that might change soon.

This year that same body approved Senate Bill 247. This bill allows  maximum security spaces to be added to existing juvenile detention centers. It was also signed into law last May.

Why the sudden embrace of such extreme measures?

Multiple violent incidents at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Detention Center in Tecumseh are commonly cited as the cause. One juvenile suffered a brain injury after being beaten in one incident, while in another local law enforcement had to be brought in to preserve order following a violent incident involving multiple juveniles.

The recent outbreak came after the closure of the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs the state’s only maximum-security juvenile facility. The youths incarcerated there were transferred

Office of Juvenile Affairs closed the state’s only maximum-security juvenile facility, the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, and transferred some of the youths from there to the state’s two other juvenile institutions.

Tulsa attorney Steven Novick does not think this reaction is justified. This is worth mentioning because Novick is the attorney who spearheaded the 1978 federal lawsuit that began a series of sweeping reforms to the juvenile system.
The suit was filed on behalf of a boy, under the pseudonym of Terry D.,  who described conditions that often included  the use of hogties and days of solitary confinement. After touring one of the facilities Novik deemed the stories well founded.  Barbara Hoberock comments on this in her recent article in Tulsa World:
He said the staff was proud of what it had been doing, adding that staff members were ‘every bit as institutionalized as the kids were. They didn’t see what they were doing as possibly wrong or harmful. That was the springboard.’
The allegations mounted, Novick said, and the suit alleged that children were subjected to abusive use of restraints and solitary confinement and that staff used tranquilizing drugs to control juveniles, rather than treat them.
‘There was compelling evidence to support all those allegations,’ he said. In addition, children who had done nothing wrong – such as victims of neglect – were housed with those who had been adjudicated of crimes, Novick said.

The lawsuit was an arduous battle, leading to a consent decree in 1984 that banned abusive practices and closed many juvenile detention facilities. The case finally reached it’s conclusion in the late 1990s with an order of dismissal outlining guidelines for treatment.

Since the dismissal order Novik believes the system has started moving toward more of a corrections model than a true juvenile justice system. The current bills which would allow pepper spray, tazers, and maximum security spaces would seem to bear that out.

Of course supporters have a different view. House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, is reported in the Bixby Bulletin as saying:

‘In the grand scheme of things, the proposals before the agency’s board are band-aids to a larger problem,’ Steele said. ‘Eventually, the state needs to address how to create proper space and methods to handle high-risk juvenile offenders. Until that happens, we’ve got to do the best we can with what we have, and I thank the agency, its board members and my fellow legislators for working to do exactly that.’

Hoberock’s article supplies the needed riposte:

Linda Terrell, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, is concerned that the proposals offered by OJA are more punitive.

‘We need to remember that they are children,’ she said.

Well said, Ms. Terrell, well said. All you need to do is look through our blog posts to see ample evidence that this incarceration based model is more expensive, less effective, and more dangerous than rehabilitation programs that focus on getting the youth integrated back into society.

Oklahoma is clearly taking steps in the other direction.