OKLAHOMA CITY – Supporters of criminal justice reform are asking the courts to commute the sentences for several inmates.
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.
Last session, lawmakers from both chambers passed several criminal justice reform measures.
“Oklahoma cannot afford the status quo,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat. “Our prison population is currently at 113 percent of capacity, and is projected to grow 25 percent by 2026. That is an unacceptable trajectory for our state and its people. These reforms will slow the growth in the prison population long-term. The savings Oklahoma will see from reduced corrections’ costs will be substantial, and will allow further investment in areas like education, health care, and mental health services that will further reduce crime and the prison population. The Legislature, criminal justice reform advocates, and law enforcement are in agreement on these reforms after years of work. This is a balanced, smart approach to keep our communities safe, keep more people as productive, taxpaying members of society, and keep more families together.”
Gov. Fallin signed several criminal justice reform measures into law, including some which eliminated mandatory minimum sentences, changed penalties for commercial drug offenses and some that adjust penalties for low-level property offenses.
Now, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform have launched a project to bring attention to commutation applicants.
The group released a video featuring Juanita Peralta, an inmate serving 10 years for possession of a controlled substance. She has previously served time for possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent to distribute and carrying drugs or a weapon into jail.
“Hundreds of Oklahomans like Juanita Peralta are still serving the type of unjust, draconian drug possession sentences Oklahoma voters roundly rejected two years ago,” said John Estus, chief of staff, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. “The Pardon and Parole Board has a historic opportunity approaching to use its authority as intended, follow the law, uphold the will of the voters and commute Juanita’s destructive, decade-long drug possession sentence. Stories like Juanita’s matter because they are shared by families all across Oklahoma who also deserve the type of restorative justice we are seeking for Juanita. We want those families to know they are not alone, and there is hope.”
The group says it is helping Oklahomans who are in prison for offenses that no longer carry long prison terms under the new laws. The Pardon and Parole Board has already advanced 31 individuals to Phase 2 hearing, with the first hearing set for Nov. 7.