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Oklahoma is “ground zero” for the rise of women in jails.

Nationally, the number of women incarcerated in jails increased nearly 14-fold between 1970 and 2014.Elizabeth Swavola, Kristi Riley, and Ram Subramanian, Overlooked: Women and Girls in an Era of Reform, 6-7, (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2016); and The Sentencing Project, Fact Sheet: Incarcerated Women and Girls (Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2015). The biggest growth has been in smaller counties, which now hold 31 times the number of women in jail than they did in 1970.Swavola, Riley, and Subramanian, Overlooked, at 6. (See Figure 1.)

In Oklahoma, where the rate of female incarceration—roughly 142 per 100,000—is twice the national average,Simon Montlake, “‘Bad Moms’ or Women in Need of Help? Oklahoma Rethinks View of Female Inmates,” Christian Science Monitor, November 20, 2017.  the problem is so acute, particularly for women of color, that in January 2017 the New York-based legal aid program Bronx Defenders brought its “holistic defense” model to Tulsa exclusively for women.Samantha Vincent, “Holistic Legal Aid Program Still She Rises Begins Taking Clients in North Tulsa,” Tulsa World, January 18, 2017.

Oklahoma has failed to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation that might address this issue. Although Governor Mary Fallin signed three criminal justice reforms bills in 2017, none made big changes, and nine other bills that were part of her reform package failed to pass.Oklahoma SB 603 (2017)Oklahoma SB 604 (2017)Oklahoma HB 2284 (2017); and Office of Governor Mary Fallin, “Gov. Fallin Signs Criminal Justice Reform Bill; Disappointed More Wasn’t Done This Session,” press release (Oklahoma City, OK: Office of Governor Mary Fallin, June 6, 2017).