The Teachers’ Union walkout at the Oklahoma State Capitol has eclipsed all other pressing policy issues, so the progress we expected by now on our criminal justice reform bills has stalled.
The seven bills from the Governor’s Task Force recommendations, which specifically address prison population reduction while protecting public safety, are now circling in a holding pattern.
A number of these bills were expected to come from the Public Safety Conference Committee to the House floor on Tuesday, April 3rd. As of Monday, April 9th, the bills have still not been heard and we have zero indication it will happen anytime soon.
These bills are critical to averting a financial and social disaster in Oklahoma. They are all targeted to reduce Oklahoma’s disgraceful prison overpopulation by modifying mandatory sentencing, promoting diversionary programs like mental health treatment and veterans courts, and increasing parole numbers for aging, non-violent offenders.
Sadly, this entire burden could have easily been avoided if the legislature had prioritized the very same criminal justice bills at this time last year. That is a fact that should outrage every conservative in Oklahoma.
Here are the seven bills that derived from the Governor’s Task Force recommendations:
➢ SB 649 (Habitual Offender): Reduces enhanced sentences for certain repeat nonviolent felonies.
➢ SB 650 (expungement): Lowers the amount of time a non-violent offender must wait to seek an expungement from 15 years to 7 years. The amount of time is also reduced for inmates who have no more than 2 nonviolent felonies by and has no other convictions within ten years after completion of sentence.
➢ SB 689 (Supervision Practices): Places restrictions on lengths of incarceration for technical violations; allows nonviolent offenders serving life without parole to be eligible for sentence modification; and, allows the court to depart from a mandatory minimum sentence for nonviolent crimes if it is not necessary for the protection of the public.
➢ SB 786 (Burglary Sentences): Creates burglary in the third degree for breaking and entering a vehicle and removes the mandatory minimum term of two years from second degree burglary.
➢ SB 793 (Commercial Drug Sentences): Changes the penalties for commercial drug offenses, and distinguishes conduct by possession with intent to distribute, distribution, and manufacturing.
➢ HB 2281 (Property Theft Sentences): Creates a tiered penalty structure for felony property offenses by value, establishing more severe penalties for higher-value property offenses.
➢ HB 2286 (Parole Eligibility): Streamlines parole for nonviolent offenders who abide by a case plan and maintain good behavior; develops a geriatric parole process for inmates older than 60 who have served a certain minimum.
Photo by Jim Beckel of NewsOK