ACLU of Oklahoma calling on lawmakers to do more for criminal justice reform

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Despite major steps toward criminal justice reform in the Sooner State, officials with the ACLU of Oklahoma say more needs to be done.

Officials with the ACLU of Oklahoma say the 2020 legislative session has been “a record disappointment” when it comes to making criminal justice reform a priority.

“In an election year, many of the legislators who are falling short on their promises to change the system are going to tout their records on criminal justice reform, but we’re here today because we urgently need them to do more. This is a non-partisan issue with popular public support, but often without the legislative bravery to match. We continue to see discussions in this building focused on crimes and compromises, not about the people, the constituents, and our families, who cannot wait for session after session on the promise of reform. I am here today because it’s not enough to go back and forth with Louisiana over who incarcerates the most people, it’s time to enact bold change that is going to start to fix years of broken policy and acknowledge that we have a lot of healing yet to do,” says Reginald Hines, President of National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice Oklahoma Chapter.

Last legislative session, one criminal justice measure was applied retroactively and led to hundreds of prisoners being released for crimes that are now misdemeanors in Oklahoma.

The group is calling on lawmakers to give Oklahomans a second chance by changing the current money bail system and allowing courts to keep families together.

“Most of the criminal legal bills that have made their way onto committee agendas this session focus on where we can expand sentence lengths, how we can further punish people, and where we can double down on our use of ineffective mandatory minimums,” said Nicole McAfee, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “All of these conversations hang on the idea we’re helping folks subjected to harm, but really what we’re proposing uses those survivors as political pawns, furthering ineffective and expensive tools of vengeance, without any investment in disrupting behavior, healing trauma, providing rehabilitation, or delivering on public safety. There are bipartisan solutions eligible to move forward on both chamber floors that the legislature could make their priority starting today.  Until then, we continue to set the most vulnerable people in our communities up for failure, harm, and recidivism. We’re calling on legislators this session can show they care for fellow Oklahomans not by claiming they support reform in a mail piece, but rather with their votes and their voices in advancing reform priorities sooner, rather than later this session.”

Right now, Oklahoma lawmakers are considering two bills held over from last session. A Senate bill looks at the current bail system, while a House measure lets courts have some leeway when considering pretrial release.

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