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Governor Mary Fallin frustrated Oklahoma lawmakers haven’t passed more criminal justice reform bills

Governor Mary Fallin

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin is frustrated Oklahoma lawmakers have not passed more criminal justice reform bills.

“My list still shows we still have 10 criminal justice bills that have not made it to my desk,” Fallin said.

The governor asked lawmakers in her State of the State address to consider these reforms, including reducing criminal penalties for nonviolent drug offenders, a parole option for elderly inmates and allowing judges and prosecutors more options in diverting people from prison to treatment and supervision programs, which were recommended by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force that she convened last year.

The Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force included those in law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, members of the business community, victim advocates, mental health and addiction professionals, and legislators.

Oklahoma has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country. It has the highest rate for women – a ranking the state has held since 1991.

Oklahoma’s prison population is projected to grow 25 percent in the next 10 years at a cost of $1.2 billion in capital expenditures and an additional $700 million in operating costs over 10 years.

“Our prisons are at 109% capacity,” she said Thursday.

“If we don’t pass meaningful reform in the next day and a half we are estimated to spend over $2 billion in the next 10 years,” the governor added.

Proposed legislation will save more than 7,800 beds, averting the immediate need for new prisons and much of these additional expenses.

On Thursday, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform commended Gov. Fallin for demanding that House leadership allow historic criminal justice reform bills to advance.

“If the House keeps bottling these bills up, taxpayers and the criminal justice system will be saddled with a $1.9 billion unfunded mandate neither can afford. These bills have overwhelming legislative and public support and deserve a vote,” said Kris Steele, chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.

“Reform like this has worked in dozens of other states and Oklahoma is on the cusp of joining them and becoming safer if House members will act. We commend Gov. Fallin and the majority of legislators who get that this is the right path for Oklahoma. These bills deserve a vote, plain and simple,” said Steele, a former House speaker and member of the governor’s criminal justice reform task force.