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Advocacy group pushes for criminal justice reform bills

OKLAHOMA CITY - An advocacy group is calling for six bills on criminal justice reform to be passed in their original language.

On Monday, the office of Governor Mary Fallin announced an agreement has been made on changes to six bills which failed to advance last year:

  • House Bill (HB) 2281, which would create a tiered structure for property offenses, based on dollar valuations, with lower ranges of punishments
  • HB 2286, which would create a streamlined administrative parole, as well as a more comprehensive aging and medical parole
  • Senate Bill (SB) 649, which would target the nonviolent offenses that are driving up incarceration numbers with a new sentence enhancement structure for second and subsequent convictions
  • SB 689, which would amend the justice safety valve provision to address long sentences for drug trafficking, and provides for numerous improvements to supervision
  • SB 786, which would create a burglary in the third-degree charge for burglary of vehicles, with a lesser range of punishment. It also would remove the mandatory minimum sentence for burglary in the second degree
  • Pending legislation that would retool the drug structure, doing away with draconian penalties of the war on drugs, and bases possession with intent to distribute based on weight

Kris Steele, chairman of Oklahomans For Criminal Justice Reform, said the bills as originally presented would curb incarnation rates.

"If these six bills passed as the task force has recommended they pass, Oklahoma will avert the 25 percent prison growth that is projected to occur the next decade," Steele said Wednesday.

He said bills like those would help people incarcerated for non-violent crimes, like Damita Price who was sentenced to life without parole in 1996 for drug trafficking. According to Price, this was a last resort to pay for her son's medical treatments for muscular dystrophy after they were kicked off their insurance plan.

"I tried to get help. I couldn't find help," Price said through tears Wednesday. "Was it right? No. But it was the only choice I had. My mother instilled in me at a young age that you put your children first."

Price received commutation and ended up serving more 21 years in prison overall.

"Mary Fallin, she signed my papers and she gave me a new chance at life when nobody else would," she recalled. "We’ve all made a mistake. Everyone in here, everyone in the world. How many chances did you get? Give someone a chance. Let these people go."

A spokesperson for the governor's office sent us this statement:

"Discussions between legislators, district attorneys and the governor’s office reached a fair compromise agreement to allow these six criminal justice reform measures to advance in the Legislature. If left unchanged, they probably would remain stalled in the Legislature. The compromise was reached during negotiations in which all necessary stakeholders were present. Bill language has been finalized and should be inserted in the appropriate bills, which will be available for viewing online."