Gov. Fallin signs seven criminal justice reform measures into law

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Several criminal justice reform measures were signed into law on Thursday in hopes that they will help keep nonviolent offenders out of prison.

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.

Data pix.

Recently, lawmakers from both chambers have 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.”

Now, seven of those measure have been signed into law.

On Thursday, Gov. Fallin signed the following measures into law:

  • Senate Bill 650, which allows offenders that have one nonviolent felony to apply for their records to be expunged if they have no new convictions or pending charges within the last seven years.
  • Senate Bill 786, which eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence and creates a third-degree burglary charge for vehicle thefts, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
  • Senate Bill 649, which reduces enhanced sentences for certain repeat nonviolent felonies.
  • Senate Bill 689, which creates risk and needs assessment as a tool for sentencing, requires intervention programming on certain domestic violence convictions.
  • Senate Bill 793, which changes the penalties for commercial drug offenses.
  • House Bill 2281, which would adjust penalties for low-level property offenses like larceny, forgery and other ‘paper crimes.’
  • House Bill 2286, which would create an administrative parole process for nonviolent offenders.

“Our state prisons are filled to well over capacity so it is crucial that we make some changes to our criminal justice system,” Fallin said. “These bills will not jeopardize public safety while addressing Oklahoma’s prison population. Too few Oklahomans are getting the treatment they need for substance abuse and mental health issues, and are instead winding up in our criminal justice system. As I said in my State of the State address at the beginning of this legislative session, we need to stop warehousing moms and dads, son and daughters in prison when many just need substance abuse treatment.”

“Criminal justice reform has arrived in Oklahoma and is poised to continue. Voters validated it with State Questions 780 and 781 in 2016, elected leaders affirmed it this session, and scores of candidates this election cycle are committed to it going forward. We commend Governor Mary Fallin, Senator Greg Treat and Representative Terry O’Donnell for the leadership they and many of their colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, displayed in supporting this effort. There is more to do, but the widespread, bipartisan support for a smarter, safer, more effective justice system is stronger than ever – and growing. With elected leader support for reform increasing, there is reason to feel very optimistic about the prospects for more progress in the future," said Kris Steele, chairman for Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.

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