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Criminal justice reform measures headed to Gov. Fallin’s desk

Oklahoma Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a couple of criminal justice reform measures on Tuesday, sending them to the governor’s desk for final approval.

For years, criminal justice reform has been discussed at the Oklahoma State Capitol as a way to curb the state’s incarceration rate.

According to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Oklahoma was second in the nation in overall incarceration rates for 2016.

“Unfortunately, none of this is a surprise,” said Joe M. Allbaugh, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director. “In fact, we expect Oklahoma’s incarceration rate to eventually be the country’s highest. This is due to the limited results of criminal justice reform in our state – and Louisiana’s successful reform efforts that will reduce how many people that state sends to prison.”

In August, a group of inmates filed a lawsuit against Gov. Fallin in federal court over unsafe conditions in Oklahoma prisons. Days later, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced that it set another population record with 63,009 people in the system.

For the past few months, advocates have asked lawmakers to do more to prevent the prison population from growing.

Recently, lawmakers from both chambers have passed several criminal justice reform measures.

Now, a couple of pieces of legislation are headed to Gov. Mary Fallin's desk.

Senate Bill 649, which reduces enhanced sentences for certain repeat nonviolent felonies, passed out of the House with a vote of 84-9 on Tuesday. The bill would also prohibit the use of previous convictions for possession of a controlled substance to enhance sentences for subsequent convictions.

The House also approved Senate Bill 689, which would allow offenders who have been sentenced to a life without parole for a non-violent crime to seek a sentence modification after serving 10 years in prison. The bill also allows courts to depart from sentencing some non-violent offenders to the mandatory minimum. It also creates risk and needs assessment as a tool for sentencing, and requires intervention programming on certain domestic violence convictions.

“House Republicans are taking a new approach to criminal justice, one that is more efficient and more compassionate,” said Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa. “We have to reduce costs to taxpayers and help non-violent offenders get the help they need so they can be productive citizens. These bills are part of an overall, long-term approach to slow the population growth in our prisons, which are already over capacity. If we can save money, we can direct more resources toward other priorities, such as education and healthcare.”