- Associated Press - Monday, February 16, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Gov. Mary Fallin, legislative leaders and the head Oklahoma’s prison system are among those who met for an inaugural meeting Monday to discuss solutions to the state’s rapidly growing prison population.

Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton says the state’s prisons are operating at an average rate of 118 percent of capacity. The Howard McLeod Correctional Center in Atoka houses more than double its rated capacity.

“One of the things that’s holding us back as a state … is the over-incarceration of those who are not violent offenders in our state, those who may need some type of substance abuse or mental health treatment,” Fallin said following Monday’s closed-door meeting.

Others who attended the meeting included House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman, R-Fairview; Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa; Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Director Terri White; and Melissa McLawhorn Houston, chief of staff for Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Steve Mullins, the governor’s general counsel, said legislation approved in recent years as part of the governor’s “Smart on Crime” and “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” programs included policies to help increase public safety and address the rising prison population. Programs such as pre-sentencing mental health and substance abuse screenings for criminal defendants and intermediate revocation facilities for sentencing probation and drug court violators already are in place, Mullins said, but do require more funding.

Increased funding likely will be a challenge for many of the criminal justice reform efforts. The Legislature is expected to have about $600 million less to spend on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

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