What does the federal criminal justice reform bill mean for Oklahoma?

OKLAHOMA CITY - Criminal justice reform advocates say a federal bill signed into law could influence future state legislation.

Last Friday, President Donald Trump signed bipartisan criminal justice legislation which overwhelmingly passed the House on Thursday night.

"Criminal justice reform. Everybody said it couldn't be done. They said that conservatives won't approve it. They said the Liberals won't approve it. They said nobody's going to approve it. Everybody's gonna be against it," President Trump said. "Everybody worked so hard."

The legislation, dubbed the "First Step Act", includes measures that will:

- Allow thousands of federal inmates to leave prisons earlier than they otherwise would have
- Ease some mandatory minimum sentences
- Reduce the disparity between sentences for offenses involving powder versus crack cocaine by retroactively applying the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act
- Give judges more discretion in sentencing

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there are currently 180,789 inmates in federal prisons which represents about 10 percent of America's total prison population.

"Research would tell us that excessive and extended incarceration stays do very little, if anything at all to reduce crime. In fact, it often makes a bad situation," said former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele. "This is the issue that conservatives, progressives, Republicans and Democrats, rural and urban elected officials can come together on and see the need for improvement."

Steele now leads the coalition Oklahomans For Criminal Justice Reform. He says while the legislation will not reduce the state's prison population, it could impact Oklahomans serving time in the federal system for non-violent crimes.

Steele said on the state level, there are policies being looked at right now which mirror the federal billed signed into law. One example is making recent reforms that have been enacted in Oklahoma apply retroactively.

"There’s a lot of momentum in Oklahoma to apply simple possession charges, for example, that are now a misdemeanor to apply that standard retroactively," he explained.

President Trump also called the bill "an incredible success for our country."

News 4 reached out to Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma who voted against the bill. This is the statement we received from his office:

“Congressman Mullin was disappointed the Cotton-Kennedy amendment was not included in the bill. As a father of five children, he was not willing to vote for a bill that didn’t include language to clarify sentencing for criminals who abuse minors.”

 

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