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Misconceptions of Incarceration

By Ali Brooks, Anne Raun and Madison Reichert
Writen Story By Anne Raun
Video By Madison Reichert

Following a semester of research on female incarceration in Oklahoma, the Flycatcher Media team went out on the Oklahoma State campus to test students’ reactions to and misconceptions regarding striking incarceration statistics. While estimates about statistics were often divided, the students surveyed expressed several common emotions – shock, surprise and sadness at the status of incarceration in Oklahoma.


Across the board, students greatly underestimated the number of children in the United States that have had one or both parents incarcerated. When surveyed, the student with the closest estimate guessed 2 million - less than half the real statistic. In reality, an estimated 5 million children in the U.S. have had at least one parent go to prison, according to the research organization Child Trends in 2015.


 “That’s too many,” Oklahoma State student Eli Ferrell said. “That’s a lot of children growing up without direction and without parents. That should be less.”


However, students greatly overestimated the number of women who are incarcerated in Oklahoma when asked to guess. While guesses ranged from 5,000 to 200,000, data from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) shows that almost 3,000 women were incarcerated near the end of 2015. This figure, though lower than most students surveyed guessed, places Oklahoma in the No. 1 spot in female incarceration rankings in the United States. Infamously, Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state.


When asked about education as it relates to incarceration trends, some overestimated but most underestimated the percentage of women in Oklahoma who are undereducated. While guesses ranged from 20 percent to 80 percent of women in prison, data from the ODOC shows that 75% of female offenders had an assessed need for basic education, according to the most recent report on female inmates.


“I feel like they need and deserve the right to education and that could help them,” Katie Pestka, a recent elementary education graduate, said.


Nevertheless, most students correctly guessed that a small percentage of women incarcerated in Oklahoma had committed violent crimes, which raises the question: should incarceration be the answer to nonviolent offenses? According to the ODOC, nearly 80% of women in prison were incarcerated for non-violent crimes and pose a minimal risk to public safety.


With these statistics in mind, is incarceration always the answer? 

Our ThoughtsAnne Raun, Madison Reichert

Reflections on a semester of investigation into female incarceration in Oklahoma: Voices of Anne Raun and Madison Reichert

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