Advocates concerned about lack of action for criminal justice reform

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Advocates say voters have been assured that criminal justice reform would be a priority this legislative session, but say they have not seen any progress so far.

Now, they are taking to the Capitol for those who cannot.

“I’m here today because those most directly impacted by the failures of our criminal justice system can’t speak out,” said Nicole McAfee, of the ACLU and Smart Justice Oklahoma. “They don’t have the option of a work stoppage, they can’t walk out. They’ve been locked away often out-of-sight and out-of-mind.”

Representatives from “Smart Justice – Oklahoma” and the ACLU carried signs reading “People, Not Prisons,” and calling for legislative action.

In 2016, Oklahoma voters passed State Questions 780 and 781 in support of criminal justice reform. But advocates want to further that reform.

The Oklahoma Criminal Justice Reform Task Force has proposed policy changes they say would lead to fewer people in prison and ultimately save the state $1.9 billion over the next 10 years.

“More money for schools, more money for teachers,” McAfee said. “If we keep doing this in the way that we should, more money for huge other portions of the budget.”

But more than halfway through this legislative session, they don’t know if any of their proposals will see any action from lawmakers.

“The best we seem to do is watered down versions of already compromised bills,” said McAfee.

Mauree Turner’s father was in prison for nonviolent crimes from before she was born until she was in junior high. She’s now sharing her story, hoping to change the perception about those who are incarcerated.

“It wasn’t up until probably a year, two years ago, I didn’t have a good relationship with my father and it was because I had that mindset that he was a criminal and that he deserved everything that he got,” Turner said.

For now, people like Mauree and other supporters will continue walking these halls, calling for change in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.

News 4 spoke to a representative from House Speaker Charles McCall’s office. He says action is coming.

They anticipate criminal justice bills to begin moving forward next week without any issue.

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