This week, Oklahoma took a major leap forward when seven bills crafted from Governor Fallin’s Task Force recommendations passed the House and Senate floors. These seven bills specifically target reductions in Oklahoma’s bloated inmate population, while strengthening public safety.
The latest figures from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections show state prisons are currently at 112 percent capacity with only 70 percent of the recommended number of Corrections Officers. This doesn’t even include the additional 1,146 prisoners in county facilities due to current overcrowding. Without action, the prison population will grow 25 percent by 2026.
Legislators prioritized passage of these bills because this crisis simply cannot be ignored any longer. The social and economic stakes are too high. Although the official data has not been finally calculated yet, we expect Oklahoma to surpass Louisiana soon to have the largest imprisonment rate in the country. While appropriations chairs in both the House and Senate have agreed to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to fund the construction of two new prisons, those are intended to replace two current prisons that are in disrepair and will be taken off-line. However, with the passage of these reforms, we have ample opportunity to prevent the need for an additional prison if we are able to safely manage our inmate population growth within the next eight years.
These bills are a significant and necessary next step, but they must not be the last step. The final versions of these bills were significantly diluted from their original forms and fall short of achieving the goals set forth in the Governor’s Task Force report. This will lower the acceleration of growth but it will not reduce our prison population over the long term. This is a great start, but cannot be the end of the conversation or action.
We must focus on getting the best return on investment possible for our tax dollars, especially when it comes to public safety.
The legislature deserves praise for what it has accomplished so far. The legislature also needs to recognize its work is far from over.
Here is a rundown of the bills:
➢ HB 2281 (Property Theft Sentences): passed House 80-3; Senate 40-0
Creates a tiered penalty structure for felony property offenses by value, establishing more severe penalties for higher-value property offenses.
➢ HB 2286 (Parole Eligibility): passed House 84-5; Senate 40-0
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.
➢ SB 649 (Habitual Offender): passed Senate 39-1; House 84-9
Reduces enhanced sentences for certain repeat nonviolent felonies.
➢ SB 650 (expungement): passed Senate 38-0; House 67-20
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 two nonviolent felonies and has no other convictions within ten years after completion of sentence.
➢ SB 689 (Supervision Practices): passed Senate 39-1; House 76-13
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): passed Senate 35-3; 56-33
Creates burglary in the third degree for breaking and entering of a vehicle and removes the mandatory minimum term of two years from second degree burglary.
➢ SB 793 (Commercial Drug Sentences): passed Senate 39-1; 67-20
Changes the penalties for commercial drug offenses, and distinguishes conduct by possession with intent to distribute, distribution, and manufacturing.