OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Which state agency determines savings from criminal justice reform could change if a new bill becomes law.

A bill placing the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) in charge of determining savings from criminal justice reform has been approved by two committees.

Senate Bill 844 was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday after previously being approved by the Health and Human Services Committee.

Senator Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said his legislation revisits the criminal justice reform measures approved by Oklahoma voters back in 2016.

You may recall that State Questions 780 changed how some Oklahoma low-level drug and and property crimes were classified. Some of those cases were changed from felonies to misdemeanors in order to help control the prison population.

At the same time, voters approved State Question 781 and that put the task of determining savings to the state on the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES). Those savings were also supposed to redirected to mental health services focused on helping those offenders.

“The problem has been, how do you accurately figure out what those savings really are?  OMES looked at total arrests, and said those people didn’t go to prison, so we’ll see a savings of over $63 million.  But not everyone who is charged goes to prison,” Thompson said.  “And you can’t just look at the Department of Correction’s bottom line because that doesn’t take into account inflation and other cost increases.  We needed a better way to get those figures and utilize those funds to change lives.”

According to officials, Thompson’s legislation directs the responsibility of determining those savings to the state’s fiscal watchdog agency, LOFT.

“LOFT is the perfect agency to dive into those numbers and determine the best way to calculate the savings.  Those funds will go into a special account in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to support a range of services like housing, employment, mental health and substance abuse programs,” Thompson.

SB 844 honors the will of the people who voted for these changes and the intent of the law, but most importantly, it will help change lives for the better throughout Oklahoma.”  

Senate Bill 844 will now be considered by the full Senate.