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Coalition pushes to lower prison population

OKLAHOMA CITY - It’s a push for even more criminal justice reform in our state.

As the legislative session starts Monday - there are 14 proposals prepared to make changes like getting more non-violent drug offenders out of jail.

Oklahoma voters have already passed State Questions 780 and 781 but these proposals would take those concepts a step further.

“They gave me 48 hours with her while I was at OU Med and then I had to leave her at the nurse’s station,” said.Kayla Jeffries - talking about the time she was separated from her daughter just after giving birth.

Jeffries was pregnant when she was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a first-time, non-violent drug offense.

The time she missed out on before her recent commutation is part of the reason she's advocating for change with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform

Their 14 policy proposals for this legislative session include plans to retroactively apply State Question 780 and allow for resentencing under current law.

Others would specify the definition of intent to distribute and limit sentencing enhancement practices.

Senator George Young from District 48 is helping push for this change.

“I can tell you from my community - which represents 8-9% of the state of oklahoma and we represent in incarceration rates 20-25% - I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again justice sometime raises the blindfold - I believe - and looks at not only the statutes that exists but looks at the color of those who come before,” Young said.

But not everyone is on board.

Several local police departments and sheriff's offices say their jails are becoming more like a revolving door because of the new laws.

“They’ll steal a couple hundred dollars worth of merchandise and these suspects aren’t afraid to do that because the laws have changed,” Officer James Koch with Broken Arrow Police told KTUL.

Victims of theft - also saying things may not always be as they seem.

“The incarceration rate is a problem but at the same time people don't learn their lessons,” Josh Bollig told KTUL.

Smaller law enforcement agencies say it’s hard for them to keep up.

“It’s taken the burden off of the oklahoma department of corrections, of course due to decreased inmate population, but it's placed the burden on local communities. That's a big complaint that we get that people are just tired of it,”  said Johnston County Sheriff Jon Smith.

However - for those like Jeffries - they say that change is possible - and necessary.

“I know society thinks that people in prison are just horrible people but we’re not - we just made a poor decision at one point in our lives and its something that we have to live with for the rest of our lives,” she said.

Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform say the plan will lower the state's prison population by 17% over the next decade.

Governor Kevin Stitt has said he supports the idea of reducing prison population.

The OJCR says through emphasizing reforms involving nonviolent offenses, their plan will:

  • “Apply retroactivity to SQ 780 and other recent nonviolent sentence changes, allowing for resent ending under current law for the incarcerated people and people with old felonies.

  • Stop injustice against mothers for failure to protect from child abuse by preventing parents who committed no abuse from receiving longer sentences then abusers.

  • Specify possession with intent to distribute to end over charging for drug possession.

  • Expand use of evidence-proven supervision and recidivism reduction practices.

  • Limit powerful sentence enhancement practices for nonviolent offenders.

  • Add a pretrial detention for misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges.”

26 legislators - both Republican and Democrat from all corners of the state are carrying the bills related to the proposals.

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