Oklahoma holds 919 of its 100,000 residents in prison while Maine’s incarceration rate is 273.

Does that mean that the New Englanders are nearly four times more lawful than Sooners?

Hardly.

That means that Oklahoma operates with a backward-thinking Legislature, that holds a “lock ‘em up” attitude and finances a weaker education system, more likely are the roots of the disparity.

Topping the nation’s incarceration rate are Louisiana (1,138), Georgia (1,021), Texas (976), Mississippi (955) then Oklahoma at 919 per 100,000.

The lowest rate of per capita inmates are Maine (273), Minnesota (300), Rhode Island (313), Vermont (317) then New Hampshire with 319 per 100,000 residents.

These grim facts just were released by the Bureau of Justice Standards. More grim is the fact that the percentage of inmates is growing. While jails and prisons are more than 10 times more likely to be housing men, the percentage of female inmates is also rapidly growing.

Drugs, no doubt, are a rising cause of crime and incarceration. Oklahoma, to its credit, has installed a visionary “drug court” system that provides treatment alternatives for many people.

In Claremore, District Judge Dynda Post has been a visionary, bold and effective in pioneering drug court alternatives. Her fine work deserves community support and total encouragement.

Sadly, also in Oklahoma, there are 800 citizens awaiting admission to drug treatment programs. These are folks pleading for help before being snatched up as law violators. With oodles of funds available, the Oklahoma Legislature should move immediately to expand treatment centers dramatically. Instead, some of the leaders want to give the state’s money back to the rich folks who make large campaign contributions.

To coin an oxymoron, that’s legal misappropriation.

In this election year, voters should press candidates to find better solutions to crime prevention and to take a civilized view of treating law violaters. Especially, the public should demand better pay for school teachers who are the first line of defense against lives of crime.

Governor Brad Henry would serve the people well to tap sources in Maine and Minnesota to uncover the reason for the dramatic difference in numbers of incarcerates. Those states obviously are doing some things differently and, no doubt, better and more properly.

“It’s not a sign of a healthy community when we’ve come to use incarceration at such rates,” said the head of the study group.

Also, keeping an inmate in prison costs more than sending a child to Harvard. Voters should think of where their tax money is being misspent.

Of course jails and prisons are necessary, but an oversupply is not only unhealthy, it’s simply nuts.

Oklahoma lawmakers should be debating ways to combat crime, prevent criminals, and to reduce numbers of people who are incarcerated.

Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire are running three times better than Oklahoma in curing the causes. The Oklahoma Legislature, with an alert public demanding action, would be a start toward more civilized answers.